As his country faced increased diplomatic isolation over its military action against Georgia, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the West of heightening tension with a naval build-up in the Black Sea.
DUSHANBE/PARIS - Russia faced increased diplomatic isolation
over its military action against Georgia, with its Asian allies failing to
offer support and France saying EU leaders were considering sanctions.
Moscow accused the West of heightening tension by a naval
build-up in the Black Sea, and said talk of punishing Russia for
recognising the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions
was the product of a "sick" and "confused" imagination.
Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a
CNN interview he suspected someone in the United States had
provoked the Georgia conflict to make the situation more tense
and create "a competitive advantage for one of the candidates
fighting for the post of U.S. president." He did not elaborate.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Putin's allegations
were "patently false" and the U.S. State Department said it was
"ludicrous" for the Russians to say they were not responsible
for what had happened in Georgia.
Moscow has defied pressure from the United States and
European powers to pull out of Georgia and looked east to its
Asian allies, including China, for support at a regional summit.
The grouping, meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe,
repeated a regular call for the "respect of territorial
integrity" and did not follow Russia's lead on recognising the
two breakaway regions of Georgia.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia's closest
ex-Soviet ally, said the Kremlin "had no other moral choice but
to" recognise the Georgian regions. Russian agencies quoted his
ambassador to Moscow as saying Minsk could soon follow suit, but
the embassy later said his comments had been misinterpreted.
The crisis flared early this month when Georgian forces
tried to retake the separatist province of South Ossetia and
Russia launched an overwhelming counter-attack.
Russian forces swept the Georgian army out of the rebel
region and are still occupying some areas of Georgia proper. On
Tuesday Moscow announced that it was recognising South Ossetia
and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states.
The United States and Europe have demanded Russia respect a
French-brokered ceasefire and withdraw all its troops from
Georgia, including a disputed buffer zone imposed by Moscow.
France, the current EU president, has called a meeting of EU
leaders on Monday to discuss the Georgian crisis, and its
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters that "sanctions
are being considered and many other means as well."
But diplomats said that, though EU nations were united in
condemning Russia's recognition move, they were mostly reluctant
to impose tough sanctions on Moscow.
"I do not think there is unanimous appetite for it (imposing
sanctions on Russia)," said one EU diplomat after a meeting on
Thursday of ambassadors from the bloc's 27 states.
The United States, Georgia's closest Western ally, said it
was premature to say whether it would consider sanctions against
Russia, White House spokeswoman Perino told reporters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Kouchner had
already suggested Russia might attack Moldova, Ukraine and the
Crimea, and added: "That is a sick imagination, and probably
that applies to sanctions as well. I think it is a demonstration
of complete confusion."
Moscow expressed alarm at a naval build-up in the Black Sea,
an area normally dominated by its southern fleet, and Putin said
he suspected U.S. nationals had been involved on the Georgian
side during battles with Russian forces.
"It that was the case, then the recent events could have a
American domestic political dimension," he said in the CNN
interview, part of which was broadcast on Russian state
"If that is true, if that is confirmed, then that's really
bad. It's very dangerous and a mistaken policy," he said.
Russia's deputy chief of the General Staff, Col-General
Anatoly Nogovitsyn, showed a news briefing an enlarged colour
photocopy of the passport of U.S. citizen Michael Lee White,
born in 1967. He said it had been retrieved by Moscow's forces
after a battle with Georgian special forces.
The United States has sent several warships to the zone,
apparently to deliver aid, including the flagship of its Sixth
Fleet, the sophisticated joint command ship Mount Whitney.
Moscow has responded by sending the flagship of its Black
Sea fleet, the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, to the Abkhaz port
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev failed to secure support
for his action at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation (SCO), a group linking Moscow with China and four
ex-Soviet Central Asian states.
In its final declaration the grouping said "to rely
exclusively on the use of force has no prospects and prevents
finding a comprehensive resolution of local conflicts".
That phrase, and a call for respect of "the unity of the
state and its territorial integrity", regularly feature in SCO
statements to take into account Chinese sensitivities. It is
also in line with Russia's reading of the Georgian conflict as
Moscow says Tbilisi used force to solve a political problem.
On the Georgian conflict the summit's closing statement
added: "The SCO states express grave concern in connection with
the recent tensions around the South Ossetian issue and urge the
sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue,
and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks."
Even China, which often sides with Russia in diplomatic
disputes, issued a veiled criticism of Moscow's actions, saying
it was "concerned about the latest changes in South Ossetia and
Abkhazia" and calling for dialogue to resolve the issue.
Date created : 2008-08-29