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France hints at EU sanctions against defiant Russia

Latest update : 2008-08-28

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the EU was considering imposing sanctions against Russia. It plans to discuss Georgia at a summit on Monday.

Russia lashed out at the West on Wednesday for ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea with an increased NATO naval presence, and warned against isolating Moscow over the conflict in Georgia.

The Group of Seven industrial powers meanwhile strongly condemned Russia's recognition of the Georgian rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Tuesday, saying it called into question Moscow's commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus.

"We reassert our strong and continued support for Georgia's sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders and underline our respect and support for the democratic and legitimate government of Georgia as we pursue a peaceful, durable solution to this conflict," they said.

The seven nations -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- deplored Russia's "excessive use of military force" and occupation of parts of Georgia, and called on Moscow to pull back its troops to behind pre-conflict lines.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with his Georgian and Russian counterparts, pursuing diplomatic efforts to ease the crisis in the Caucasus.

In a statement, the Elysee Palace said Sarkozy "underlined the urgent neccessity to lower tension and to fully apply the six points of the ceasefire agreement" that the French leader brokered earlier this month.

Amid a continuing war of words with Moscow, Tbilisi said it was downgrading diplomatic ties.

In Tbilisi late Wednesday, the secretary of the Georgian national security council, Alexander Lomaia, told AFP that Russian troops would leave the key Black Sea port of Poti "tomorrow (Thursday) or after tomorrow at the latest."

They would do so, he said, "as a result of international pressure." No confirmation of such a move was forthcoming from the Russian side.

Russian officials said earlier Wednesday they were taking extra measures to monitor a growing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, as the second of three US ships sent to deliver aid arrived in Georgia.

Moscow has accused the West of using aid shipments as a cover for rearming Georgia after the Russian military's surge into Georgia earlier this month left much of the Georgian military in tatters.

"Certainly some measures of precaution are being taken," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov. "It's not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aide using battleships."

A senior Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, pointed to an international convention of 1936 limiting shipping levels in the Black Sea and warned the NATO presence could not continue indefinitely.

And in a reminder of Russia's energy muscle, Putin's spokesman warned against trying to isolate Moscow as punishment for Russia's decision to recognise Abkhazian and South Ossetian as independent nations.

"Any attempts to jeopardise this atmosphere of cooperation... would not only (have) a negative impact for Russia but will definitely harm the economic interests of those states," Peskov said.

Russia moved its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi, where they got a rapturous reception from Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, who downed a toast from an ornate drinking horn with Russian officers.

On a visit to Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the West was not interested in a new Cold War. He added that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had "a big responsibility not to start one."

Back in Georgia, Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said Tbilisi was consulting with Western powers on how to respond to "Russia's aggression and illegal actions," after President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to "wipe Georgia from the map."

Tkeshelashvili told AFP that Tbilisi was pulling all but two of its diplomats from its embassy in Moscow, leaving only one senior diplomat -- not an ambassador -- and one low-ranking diplomat.

In the Georgian port of Batumi, the second of three ships sent by Washington arrived with aid for some of the 100,000 people estimated to have been displaced in the conflict in South Ossetia and in other areas entered by Russian troops and accompanying irregular militias.

Moscow argues that it recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia to protect the local inhabitants after Russian forces poured into Georgia earlier this month to repel a Georgian attack on the latter region.

The stand-off has part of its roots in the dispute over Kosovo, whose declaration of independence from Serbia last February was supported diplomatically by the United States and many EU member states, but opposed by Moscow.

Date created : 2008-08-28

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