Saakashvili said that the manner in which Russian troops mobilised in South Ossetia over recent days clearly indicated that it was a pre-meditated operation.

 

He said: "It is obvious... the Russian invasion had been planned for months and months and months. The timing of this intervention has been chosen deliberately [with regards] to the Olympics."

 

"It is so clear what has happened. We are in the process of invasion, occupation and annihilation of a democratic, independent country.

 

"Please wake up everybody and make your position and speak with a united voice... We are seeing the cold-blooded, pre-meditated, murder of a small country."

 

Gori 'panic'

 

Alexander Lomaia, the secretary of Georgia's security council, has said Russian forces have occupied the Georgian city of Gori and that Georgian forces are fortifying positions near Tbilisi to defend the capital.

 

Map


Key locations in the conflict

He said: "Russian forces are occupying Gori. Georgian armed forces received an order to leave Gori and to fortify positions near Mtskheta to defend the capital. This is a total onslaught."

 

Mtskheta is a Georgian city 24km from Tbilisi.

 

Earlier, Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent outside Gori, confirmed that the city had been evacuated.

 

Hull said: "The evacuation began suddenly... when word came that the Russians were 5km to 10km from the city's limits. I have seen civilians and the army fleeing. Georgian troops clinging to the back of quad bikes. I have seen tanks leaving in no particular formation. It's panic basically."

 

Cease-fire rejected

A cease-fire proposed by European Union envoys was signed in Tbilisi by Saakashvili on Monday morning, but Russia immediately rejected the document.

A Kremlin spokesman said: "According to information from peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Georgia continues to use military force and in this regard we cannot consider this document."

 

Russia's deputy prime minister dismissed an EU cease-fire [AFP]
Sergei Ivanov, the Russian deputy prime minister, dismissed the EU efforts, saying the document was "not a ceasefire agreement".

 

Ivanov said a "cease-fire agreement is signed by two sides when they meet... we need a written agreement between Georgia on one side, South Ossetia and Abkhazia... that they will never use force in the future."

 

The document called for medical access to victims, a controlled withdrawal of troops on both sides and eventual political talks.

 

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, said on Monday that the West had mistaken the real aggressors for the victims.

In a speech to senior government officials, Putin said some United States politicians still had a Cold War mentality.

"It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us," Putin said.

"I mean... the transfer by the United States of a Georgian contingent in Iraq with military transport planes practically to the conflict zone."

On Monday, the US military confirmed they had begun flying 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq after Georgia recalled them.

"The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing," said Putin.

"The attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims."

Casualties

Earlier on Monday, Georgia's president said his country's existence was threatened by what he said was a Russian military onslaught centred on the breakaway region of South Ossetia but also including bombardments across Georgia.

 

At the weekend, Russian tanks attempted to advance in the direction of the town of Gori outside South Ossetia, but were turned back by Georgian forces.

 

Moscow officials have said that 2,000 people have been killed among the South Ossetian population, but Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights group, said that appeared to be an exaggeration.

 

HRW also questioned Russia's claim that the conflict had resulted in 24,000 refugees, saying that refugees who had crossed the border multiple times may have been registered more than once.

 

Thousands of refugees have been housed in hostels in and around Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, with others being sent to the cities of Nalchik, Krasnodar and Rostov in southern Russia.

 

"There are fears of propaganda and of disinformation. It's difficult to form an objective picture," said Tanya Lokshina, a HRW researcher.

 

Abkhazia warning

 

On Sunday, Russia claimed to have sunk a Georgian boat that was purportedly trying to attack Russian vessels in the Black Sea.

 

Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of general staff, warned that "if air space is violated as well, we will be forced to respond appropriately and to destroy those who enter the safety zone," in the Black Sea off the Abkhazian coast.

Russia says more than 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia [AFP]

He also said Russia had no intention of moving deeper into Georgian territory.

"The 1992 treaty, signed by the Georgian side, clearly defines the boundaries of the Russian peacekeeping contingent's responsibility. No tasks to enter Georgia have been assigned to the peacekeeping contingent."

 

In 1992, South Ossetia broke away from Georgian control, and there has been a Russian peacekeeping contingent there ever since.

The Russian warning has drawn Georgian fears that Russia may open a second front in the conflict.

Georgia borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s.

The two provinces have close ties with Moscow, while Georgia has deeply angered Russia by wanting to join Nato.