French President Nicolas Sarkozy has landed in Russia. Sarkozy, who has the European Union backing, is seeking full withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and hoping to calm escalating tensions between Moscow and the West.
One month to the day after the start of their conflict, Russia and Georgia were Sunday awaiting a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy aimed at shoring up an uneasy truce in the Caucasus.
Sarkozy, whose nation holds the EU presidency, will go first to Moscow, then to Tbilisi against the backdrop of souring relations between Russia and the United States reflected in increasingly tough rhetoric over the weekend.
Moscow's mayor Yury Luzhkov entered the fray Sunday, saying the "crushing" defence that Russia mounted against Nazi Germany during World War II should serve as a warning to Washington.
"Let that be a stern and appropriate reminder to those who surround Russia with their missiles and bases," Luzhkov said.
Sarkozy dashed to Moscow and Tbilisi five days after the conflict erupted on August 7 to broker a ceasefire that has failed to produce a full retreat of Russian troops.
He will be joined this time around by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
He will seek a timetable for Russia's complete withdrawal, Russian acceptance of an EU observer mission in Georgia and the setting of a date for international talks on the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Sarkozy's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the EU may also seek to pressure Russia on gas imports.
"That's a priority of the French EU presidency. We're working on it," Newsweek quoted him as saying in excerpts from an interview.
A NATO delegation was also expected to visit Georgia on Monday to evaluate damage to military infrastructure. Georgia has an open-ended promise of membership.
In the toughest talk yet to come out of the Bush administration, US Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia on Saturday of "brutality" and seeking Soviet-style dominance.
President Dmitry Medvedev declared that "Russia is a state that has to be reckoned with from now on" and that the "world changed" on August 7.
As world attention was focused on the start of the Beijing Olympics, Georgia began an attempt that night to regain control of the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Georgian forces briefly held the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali before they were routed by Russian tanks and troops.
By August 12, when Sarkozy rushed to Moscow and Tbilisi, Russia had strategic control over large swathes of Georgia, a key corridor for Caspian Sea oil and gas exports.
Hundreds of people on both sides were killed, tens of thousands displaced, and extensive destruction wrought on Tskhinvali and surrounding villages.
Western countries repeatedly called on Russia to withdraw all troops, then reacted in horror when Moscow recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second breakaway region, as independent states.
Russia, which says it intervened to protect South Ossetians granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, slowly pulled back most of its forces.
But it says that the remainder -- thought to number a few thousand soldiers -- will stay put until international controls, including observers and police, are in place to deter a fresh Georgian attack.
Moscow also wants Tbilisi to sign a non-aggression pact and argues the troop presence is in line with the ceasefire agreement. France has admitted that the document became lost in translation -- leading to different interpretations.
The first European diplomats to be allowed into a Russian-controlled buffer zone near South Ossetia said Sunday they had "serious concerns" for the population there and denounced Russia's "unacceptable violation" of the truce.
"Having not been allowed to visit the villages near the conflict zone, serious concerns remain over possible ethnic cleansing," said a joint statement from the Swedish, Latvian and Estonian ambassadors to Georgia.
Nonetheless, as Kouchner admitted, the 27 EU members have no appetite for confrontation.
"The former Soviet bloc countries fear a return to a certain Russian imperialism, I understand," he added. "But we also know, and there are 27 of us, the costs of a cold war. I hate that term, but nobody wants a policy of confrontation with Russia."
Georgia has accused Russia of leading an "ethnic cleansing" campaign to drive ethnic Georgians out of South Ossetia in favour of Moscow-backed ethnic Ossetians.
News agencies later quoted Medvedev as saying that the Kremlin feels "fraternity" with the Georgian people, the president adding that "nothing could ever shake that."
Date created : 2008-09-08