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Tensions rise in the Black Sea

Latest update : 2008-08-28

Cold War fears rose with Ukraine asking Russia to pay more for a Black Sea base, where it said that it was seeing "the build-up of NATO forces", while France's president Nicolas Sarkozy called on Russia to retreat from Georgia.

 

KIEV/TBILISI - Ukraine said on Wednesday it wanted to discuss charging Russia more for the lease of a Black Sea naval base, a move that could aggravate regional tensions already enflamed by Moscow's conflict with Georgia.

 

As the U.S. Navy shipped in humanitarian supplies to Georgia, Russia said its navy was watching "the build-up of NATO forces in the Black Sea area" and had started taking measures to monitor their activity.

 

Georgia recalled all but two of its diplomats from Moscow in protest after Russia recognised its rebel South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent and President Mikheil Saakashvili urged the West to uphold international law.

 

"Russia clearly intended this as a blatant challenge to world order. It's now up to all of us to roll Russian aggression back. If they get away with this, they will carry on ... they will also attack other countries in the neighbourhood," Saakashvili told Reuters in an interview.

 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Moscow to comply immediately with his peace plan for Georgia, which Russia has signed but continues to violate.

 

Meanwhile his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said Russia might have its eye on other neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Moldova.

The Georgia crisis has alarmed other former Soviet republics with sizeable Russian minorities, particularly Ukraine and the Baltic states.

 

Russia quickly crushed Georgian forces in a brief war over South Ossetia this month, the first time it has sent its forces into combat abroad since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

Russian troops and tanks continue to occupy parts of Georgia included in buffer zones it set up around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and has ignored Western demands to withdraw from them.

 

It says its troops are needed there to protect civilians from Georgian aggression.

 

 

 

"GRAVE VIOLATION"

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev Russia's presence in Georgia's port of Poti and other areas outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia "represents a grave violation" of a ceasefire, her spokesman said.

 

Russia says the French-brokered agreement allows it to station troops inside Georgia proper but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to pull back after an international monitoring mechanism was in place there.

 

"We will be ready to make decisions, including in the United Nations...on additional increases in the number of international monitors, clarifying their mandate and possibly other steps with international participation," he said in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.

 

While some Western governments have said Saakashvili bore at least partial responsibility for the outbreak of the conflict, U.S. President George W. Bush said recognition of the rebel regions by Russia "only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations."

 

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Medvedev had a big responsibility not to start a new Cold War.

 

"Russia has not reconciled itself to the new map of this new region...We do not want a new Cold War and he (Medvedev) has a big responsibility not to start one," Miliband told a group of students in Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

 

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko joined Western nations in condemning the Russian move on Tuesday to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states under Moscow's protection.

 

"We are sorry about this decision, for Ukraine it is unacceptable and therefore we cannot support this position," he said in an interview with Reuters.

 

Yushchenko said Kiev wanted to raise the question of increasing Russia's rent on its Sevastopol base in Ukraine's Crimea region, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet.

 

Russia has said any renegotiation would break a 1997 agreement between the two countries, under which it currently leases the base for $98 million a year until 2017.

 

"We will see how this will develop. We are sticking strictly to the conditions on the timetable for the Russian fleet's presence there," Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, told a news briefing.

 

Nogovitsyn accused NATO nations of "ratcheting up tension" in the Black Sea, but said Russia was not planning to increase its own presence there. "Now we have people flexing their muscles, demonstrating force ... We can only regret that."

 

A U.S. Coast Guard ship carrying post-war aid to Georgia arrived on the country's Black Sea coast on Wednesday, but backed down from docking in a Russian-patrolled port.

 

The cutter Dallas had been due in Poti, where Russian troops are still manning checkpoints after pushing deep into Georgia during the war over South Ossetia. Instead it docked 80 km (50 miles) south in Batumi.

 

The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi originally said the Dallas would be joined in Poti by a U.S. warship, the USS McFaul, which docked in Batumi on Sunday. But the embassy said late on Tuesday that the plan had changed. It did not say why.

 

"This decision was taken at the highest level of the Pentagon," a U.S. embassy spokeswoman told Reuters.

 

Medvedev has accused the United States of shipping weapons into Georgia, a remark the White House dismissed as "ridiculous".

Date created : 2008-08-27

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