Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 16:16 UK

Georgia attack is 'Russia's 9/11'

Russian troops in  Karaleti, Georgia, on 12 September 2008
Are Russian troops in Georgia getting ready to leave?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has described Georgia's assault on South Ossetia as Russia's 9/11.

He said the world had learnt lessons from the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001 and hoped the same would happen after events in the Caucasus.

Reports say Russian troops are showing signs of preparing to pull back from inside Georgia.

This is in line with a ceasefire deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday.

However, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman cast doubt on the preparations, saying: "There has been no sign of a withdrawal."

'Changed world'

Mr Medvedev was speaking to a group of foreign policy experts when he likened events in South Ossetia last month to the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

"Russia has zones where it has its interests. It is senseless to deny this, because we will defend our interests and the interests of Russian citizens," he said.

"The world has changed and it occurred to me that 8 August 2008 has become for Russia as 11 September 2001 for the United States. This is an accurate comparison corresponding to Russian realities.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on 11 September 2008
Mr Medvedev said he hoped lessons would be learned from August's events

"Humankind has drawn lessons from 11 September tragedy and other tragic events. I would like the world to draw lessons also from these events [in South Ossetia]."

Russia had not sought a war, Mr Medvedev said, blaming both Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who he accused of fuelling Georgian belligerence.

But the conflict had shown that the balance of power in the world was out of date, he said, and from now on Russia would defend its interests wherever they were.

Nato membership for Georgia was completely unacceptable, he went on. But even if Georgia had been embarked on such a path, Russia would still not have hesitated to attack.

In terms of the future, a lot depended on how Russia was treated by the West. But Mr Medvedev played down fears that the crisis had caused a deep rift between the two, saying: "We don't need this."

Talks collapse?

Tensions have been high since Russian troops entered Georgia, responding to Georgian attempts on on 7 August to reassert its control in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russia however agreed to pull back its troops from Georgia after the meeting with Mr Sarkozy, although it intends to keep its forces in South Ossetia and the other breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Moscow said it would withdraw from Georgia itself once international monitors were in place.

However, one senior Western diplomat was quoted by the Associated Press as saying talks on placing observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in South Ossetia and Abkhazia had collapsed.

The official accused Russia of stalling for time in an effort to keep the observers out of both separatist regions.

"It's become clear that Russia doesn't want any agreement. I think they're afraid of what the observers will see," the diplomat said.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that 68,000 of an estimated 192,000 people displaced by the fighting in South Ossetia had now returned home.

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