(dpa) - There is no need for the United States to militarily intervene in the ongoing conflict between Georgia and Russia, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
"The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia," Gates said, referring to the Cold War. "I see no reason to change that approach today."
President George W Bush on Wednesday ordered the US military to lead a "vigorous" humanitarian mission in Georgia to provide assistance after the week-long Russian onslaught in the former Soviet republic.
Bush's move prompted speculation that the United States was on course for a military confrontation with Russian forces, which launched a massive military assault into Georgia last week.
"I don't see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation," Gates told reporters. "Is that clear enough?"
Gates said there are indications that Russia has begun pulling back from positions deep in Georgian territory back toward the combat zones in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway regions that were the source of the larger conflict.
Gates said there appears to be no attempt by the Russians to block roads, sea lanes or airspace vital to the humanitarian mission.
"The air activities in and around that region have slowed dramatically over the last 24 hours," Gates said. "And so we see (the Russians) generally complying and moving back into a position where they can start to make their exit in an orderly fashion."
Moscow declared a truce on Monday but Russian troops subsequently continued to take strategic positions in Georgia and there had been reports of airstrikes.
Gates accused Russia of punishing Georgia for the Causasus nation's effort to politically and economically integrate with the West and send a clear message to other former Soviet states.
"The Russians' further message was to all of the parts of the former Soviet Union as a signal about trying to integrate with the West and move outside of the longtime Russian sphere of influence," Gates said. "So I think that they had an opportunity to make some very broad points, and I think they seized that opportunity."
Even though Russia had been complying with the ceasefire, Gates said there will be consequences in US-Russian relations and the world would likely view Russia "through a different set of lenses" following its aggressive assault on Georgia.
"In terms of international institutions, in terms of cooperation with Russia, in terms of the overall relationships between many nations and Russia, that there may be consequences," he said.
Gates announced that United States was cancelling its participation in joint US, Canadian and Russian military exercises scheduled to begin August 20. That came one day after the Pentagon announced the US Navy dropped plans to join Russian hosted naval exercises with Britain and France slated to begin Friday.
"In the days and weeks ahead, the Department of Defense will re- examine the entire gamut of our military-to-military activities with Russia and will make changes as necessary and appropriate," Gates said.
Gates also said the United States could withdraw from the strategic dialogue with Russia that the two countries began in October to try to bridge differences and identify issues of cooperation.
" Russia's behaviour over the past week has called into question the entire premise of that dialogue and has profound implications for our security relationship going forward, both bilaterally and with NATO," Gates said.