TBILISI (Combined Sources) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday they had agreed to a modified version of a peace plan with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia announced Tuesday that he had ordered a halt to Russia’s military operation in Georgia, although he did not say that troops were pulling out, and Russian forces were still authorized to fire on enemies in South Ossetia.
"It is a political document. It is an agreement of principles … and I think we have full coincidence of principles," Saakashvili told a joint news conference with the French president.
Sarkozy, whose country holds the six-month presidency of the European Union, said the text would be presented to a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Wednesday so they could throw their weight behind it. It would then provide the basis for a U.N. Security Council resolution.
The changes made had been approved by Medvedev and included removing a reference to talks on the future status of South Ossetia, the two leaders said.
Medvedev Tuesday said Russia had achieved its military goals during five days of intense fighting that saw Russian troops advance into Georgian territory and brought a strong denunciation from President George W. Bush and other Western leaders.
In a meeting with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, shown on Russian television, Medvedev said, "The goal of the operation has been achieved. The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been ensured."
But he also told Serdyukov to "eliminate" any enemy remaining in South Ossetia.
"Whenever hotbeds of resistance and other aggressive plans emerge, make the decision and eliminate them," he said.
The fighting appeared to continue in Georgia on Tuesday, and it was uncertain how quickly Medvedev’s statement would lead to an end to hostilities. Medvedev took the lead role in announcing the halt, in contrast to previous days, when the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was the dominant public figure in the crisis, even flying to the Georgian border to direct operations.
When asked about the cease-fire, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a senior defense official, said military actions could continue.
"If you receive the order to cease fire, this would not mean that we would stop all operations, including reconnaissance operations," he said.
A Russian withdrawal will occur only once a formal cease-fire had been reached.
Despite the uncertainties, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who was in Moscow in hopes of mediating the crisis, hailed Medvedev’s decision. Sarkozy said it was "the news we expected. It’s good news."
Other senior Western officials said they thought a cease-fire was imminent.
Alexander Stubb, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said: "It means an end to military action if there is no retaliation. There is always a gap between rhetoric and reality. The way I read it is that military hostilities are about to end. Traditionally, we will see a few skirmishes, but frontal attacks and positioning will end."
Stubb said the details of a cease-fire would be worked out during the course of the day.
But in Georgia the fighting continued.
In Poti, a port city in western Georgia, a New York Times correspondent heard bombs falling around an hour after Medvedev’s statement. In Gori, in central Georgia, another Times reporter said the last bomb had fallen about an hour before the announcement.
The Georgian authorities said Russian fighter jets bombarded two villages located outside South Ossetia in Georgia proper, although this could not be independently confirmed.
Over the past few days, Russian troops have also pushed into Abkhazia, the disputed enclave in the west of Georgia.
On Tuesday, General Nogovitsyn, the senior defense official, did not say there would be a withdrawal from the Kodori Gorge, the only part of the territory where Georgia has military forces.
"The relationship between forces on both sides will be decided later on," he said. "This takes time; it will not be done overnight. Luckily, there were no hostilities in that area."
On Monday, Russian troops briefly seized a Georgian military base and took up positions close to Gori, raising Georgian fears of a full-scale invasion or an attempt to remove the country’s pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili.
By earlier Tuesday, the key road that leads to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was completely cleared of Georgian forces, except for broken and abandoned vehicles left behind in the retreat.
And Georgian troops had apparently abandoned Gori. One resident reported seeing Russian tanks at a military base on the outskirts of the city.
Ellen Barry reported from Moscow and Helene Cooper from Washington. Andrew E. Kramer and Michael Schwirtz reported from Gori. Reporting was also contributed by Marc Santora from the United Nations in New York, Steven Lee Myers from Washington, and C.J. Chivers.