GORI, Georgia — Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia veered closer to all-out war on Saturday as Russia moved parts of its Black Sea fleet toward Georgia’s coast and intensified air attacks on Georgia, striking two apartment buildings in the city of Gori and clogging roads out of the area with fleeing refugees.
Russia acknowledged that Georgian forces had shot down two Russian warplanes, while a senior Georgian official said the Georgians had destroyed 10 Russian jets. Russian armored vehicles continued to stream into South Ossetia, the pro-Russian region that won de facto autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s.
The fighting that began when Georgian forces tried to retake the capital of the South Ossetia, Tskinvali, appeared to be developing into the worst clashes between Russia and a foreign military since the 1980s war with Afghanistan.
Russian officials said that 1,500 civilians had been killed in South Ossetia and that 12 Russian troops had died. A Georgian government spokesman said that 60 civilians had been killed in Gori in the two apartment buildings, which were located near a tank base. Each side’s figures were impossible to confirm independently.
In Beijing, where President Bush and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin were attending the Olympic Games, Mr. Bush directly called on Russia to stop bombing Georgian territory, expressing strong support for Georgia in a direct challenge to Russia’s leaders.
“Georgia is a sovereign nation, and its territorial integrity must be respected,” Mr. Bush said in a hastily arranged appearance at his hotel. “We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand down by all troops. We call for the end of the Russian bombings.”
The Russian defense ministry said 100 planeloads of airborne troops will be brought to northern Russia and marched into the “zone of hostilities.” Georgian officials said at least 2,500 Russian troops were already in the country.
On Saturday, Russia notified Western governments that its was moving elements of its Black Sea fleet to Ochamchira, a small port in the disputed enclave, a senior Western official said.
A senior Georgian security official said that Russian ships were moving toward Georgia’s Black Sea Cost in order to land ground troops, and that 12 Russian jets were bombing the Kadori Gorge in Abhazia, another breakaway region that hugs the Black Sea.
T he de facto government of pro-Russian Abkhazia asked United Nations peacekeepers to depart from their posts in the Kodori Gorge, a small mountainous area that Georgia had reclaimed by force in 2006.
The United Nations withdrew. Aerial bombardments of the gorge began soon after, the official said.
“The record is crystal clear,” the official said. “Russia has launched a full-scale military operation, on air, land and sea. We have entered a totally new realm — politically, legally and diplomatically.”
Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, declared that Georgia was in a state of war, ordering government offices to work round the clock.
The senior Georgian official, Alexander Lomaya, secretary of the country’s National Security Council, said that 50 Russian warplanes had flown over Georgia on Saturday, a tenfold increase over the number of sorties seen Friday.
Russian authorities said their forces had retaken the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, from Georgian control during the morning hours , while Georgian officials said they had withdrawn from the area voluntarily.
Twelve Russian troops were killed, according to Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a Colonel General in the Ministry of Defense . Mr. Nogovitsyn was asked whether Russia was in a state of war with Georgia, but he denied that. Russian officials said their forces had entered Tskhinvali to aid Russian peacekeepers based there who had come under sustained fire from Georgian troops on Thursday.
Shota Utiashvili, an official at the Georgian Interior Ministry, called the attack on Gori a “major escalation,” and said he expected attacks to increase over the course of Saturday.
In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, wounded fighters and civilians began to arrive in hospitals, most with shrapnel or mortar wounds. Several dozen names had been posted outside the hospital.
In a news conference, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Georgian attacks on Russian citizens “amounted to ethnic cleansing.”
Mr. Lavrov said Russian airstrikes targeted military staging grounds. Asked whether Russia is prepared to fight “all-out war” in Georgia, he said: “No. Georgia, I believe, started a war in Southern Ossetia, and we are responsible to keep the peace.”
He said Moscow has been working intensely with foreign leaders, in particular the United states. “We have been appreciative of the American efforts to pacify the hawks in Tbilisi. Apparently these efforts have not succeeded. Quite a number of officials in Washignton were really shocked when all this happened.”
In Beijing, Mr. Bush said the United States was working with European allies to seek an international mediation in the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. He noted that administration officials had been in contact with officials in both countries “at all levels of government,” though neither side has so far showed a willingness to compromise.
Mr. Bush referred particularly to attacks spreading beyond South Ossetia, a reference to the Russian air strikes in parts of Georgia itself. “The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia,” he said. “They mark dangerous escalation in the crisis. The violence is endangering regional peace, civilian lives are being lost, and others are in danger.”
He discussed the fighting with Mr. Putin during a social lunch at the Great Hall of the People on Friday and again at the opening ceremonies. (The White House would did not disclose the details of what they said.)
After the opening ceremonies and through the day on Saturday, Mr. Bush conferred with his senior advisors about how to respond.
A White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said that Mr. Bush had spoken by telephone this evening with the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as well as Mr. Saakashvili. He said the president “reiterated the United States position to both leaders.”
Mr. Bush’s remarks, though brief, were striking in how he put the onus on Russia to halt the violence. He has sought to maintain a cooperative relationship with Russia under Mr. Putin and now Mr. Medvedev and has never before so flatly stated what he expected them to do on any issue. Referring to international efforts to mediate the conflict, he declared, “Russia needs to support these efforts so that peace can be restored as quickly as possible.”
Pentagon officials said late Friday that the Georgian government had officially requested assistance in airlifting home the approximately 2,000 Georgian troops now in Iraq. The request was under review, and standard procedures would indicate that the United States Government would honor the request, officials said.
Russian military units including tank, artillery and reconnaissance arrived in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on Saturday to help Russian peacekeepers there, in response to overnight shelling by Georgian forces, state television in Russia reported, citing the Ministry of Defense. Ground assault aircraft were also mobilized, the Ministry said.
A senior Georgian official said by telephone on Saturday that Russian bombers were flying over Georgia and that the presidential offices and residence in Tbilisi had been evacuated. The official added that Georgian forces still had control of Tskhinvali.
Neither side showed any indication of backing down. Mr. Putin of Russia declared that “war has started,” and Mr. Saakashvili accused Russia of a “well-planned invasion” and mobilized Georgia’s military reserves. There were signs as well of a cyberwarfare campaign, as Georgian government Web sites were crashing intermittently during the day.
The escalation risked igniting a renewed and sustained conflict in the Caucasus region, an important conduit for the flow of oil from the Caspian Sea to world markets and an area where conflict has flared for years along Russia’s borders, most recently in Chechnya.
The military incursion into Georgia marked a fresh sign of Kremlin confidence and resolve, and also provided a test of the capacities of the Russian military, which Mr. Putin had tried to modernize and re-equip during his two presidential terms.
Frictions between Georgia and South Ossetia, which has declared de facto independence, have simmered for years, but intensified when Mr. Saakashvili came to power in Georgia and made national unification a centerpiece of his agenda. Mr. Saakashvili, a close American ally who has sought NATO membership for Georgia, is loathed at the Kremlin in part because he had positioned himself as a spokesman for democracy movements and alignment with the West.
Earlier this year Russia announced that it was expanding support for the separatist regions. Georgia labeled the new support an act of annexation.
The conflict in Georgia also appeared to suggest the limits of the power of President Dmitri A. Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s hand-picked successor. During the day, it was Mr. Putin’s stern statements from China, where he was visiting the opening of the Olympic Games, that appeared to define Russia’s position.
But Mr. Medvedev made a public statement as well, making it unclear who was directing Russia’s military operations. Officially, that authority rests with Mr. Medvedev, and foreign policy is outside Mr. Putin’s portfolio.
“The war in Ossetia instantly showed the idiocy of our state management,” said a commentator on the liberal radio station, Ekho Moskvy. “Who is in charge, Putin or Medvedev?”
The war between Georgia and South Ossetia, until recently labeled a “frozen conflict,” stretches back to the early 1990s, when South Ossetia and another separatist region, Abkhazia, gained de facto independence from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The region settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers, but frictions with Georgia increased sharply in 2004, when Mr. Saakashvili was elected.
Reports conflicted throughout Friday about whether Georgian or Russian forces had won control of Tskhinvali, the capital of the mountainous rebel province. It was unclear late on Friday whether ground combat had taken place between Russian and Georgian soldiers, or had been limited to fighting between separatists and Georgian forces.
Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali, said early on Saturday that South Ossetian separatists still held most of the city and that Georgian forces were only present on its southern edge.
That report aligned with a statement by Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, who said that Georgian military units held eight villages at the capital’s edge. Georgian officials asserted that Russian warplanes had attacked Georgian forces and civilians in Tskhinvali, and that airports in four Georgian cities had been hit.
Shota Utiashvili, an official at the Georgian Interior Ministry, said they included the Vaziany military base outside of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, a military base in Marneuli, and airports in the cities of Delisi and Kutaisi.
“We are under massive attack,” he said.
Late in the night, George Arveladze, an adviser to Mr. Saakashvili, said that Russian planes had bombed the commercial seaport of Poti, where one worker was missing and several others were wounded. Poti is an export point for oil from the Caspian Sea; Mr. Arveladze said the initial reports indicated that the oil terminal had not been struck.
Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia, said in a statement on a government Web site that hundreds of civilians had been killed in fighting in the capital. Russian peacekeepers stationed in South Ossetia said that 12 peacekeeping soldiers were killed Friday and that 50 were wounded. The claims of casualties by all sides could not be independently verified.
Analysts said that either Georgia or Russia could be trying to seize an opportune moment with world leaders focused on the start of the 2008 Olympics this week to reclaim the territory, and to settle the dispute before a new American presidential administration comes to office.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, said that Russia’s aims were clear. “They have two goals,” he said. “To do a creeping annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and, secondly, to overthrow Saakashvili, who is a tremendous thorn in their side.”
A spokesman for Mr. Medvedev declined to comment.
The United States State Department issued a press release late Friday saying that John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, had summoned the Russian chargÃ© d’affairs to press for a de-escalation of force. “We deplore today’s Russian attacks by strategic bombers and missiles, which are threatening civilian lives,” the statement said.
The United States also said Friday that it would send an envoy to the region to try to broker an end to the fighting.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany issued a statement calling on both sides “to halt the use of force immediately.” Germany has taken a leading role in trying to ease the tensions over Abkhazia.
The trigger for the fresh escalation began last weekend, when South Ossetia accused Georgia of firing mortars into the enclave after six Georgian policemen were killed in the border area by a roadside bomb. As tensions grew, South Ossetia began sending women and children out of the enclave. The refugee crisis intensified Friday as relief groups said thousands of refugees, mostly women and children, were streaming across the border into the North Caucasus city of Vladikavkaz in Russia.
At the United Nations on Friday, diplomats continued to wrangle over the text of a statement after attempts to agree to compromise language collapsed Friday afternoon, after nearly three hours of consultations.
The Russians, who had called the emergency session, proposed a short, three-paragraph statement that expressed concern about the escalating violence, and singled out Georgia and South Ossetia as needing to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.
But one phrase calling on all parties to “renounce the use of force” met with opposition, particularly from the United States, France and Britain. The three countries argued that the statement was unbalanced, one European diplomat said, because that language would have undermined Georgia’s ability to defend itself. Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, circulated a revised draft calling for an immediate cessation of hostility and for “all parties” to return to the negotiating table. By dropping the specific reference to Georgia and South Ossetia, the compromise statement would also encompass Russia.
The Security Council was scheduled to meet Saturday to resume deliberations. China, in its statement during the early morning debate, had asked for a traditional cease-fire out of respect for the opening of the Olympics.
There are over 2,000 American citizens in Georgia, Pentagon officials said. Among them are about 130 trainers mostly American military personnel but with about 30 Defense Department civilians assisting the Georgian military with preparations for deployments to Iraq.