Russia faces Western pressure over Georgia - extended


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The United States, NATO and European powers condemned as unacceptable Russia’s recognition on Tuesday of two breakaway Georgian regions as independent states, and demanded Moscow recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity. US President George W. Bush condemned Moscow’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying they must remain part of Georgia. “Russia’s action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations,” Bush said in a statement from his Texas ranch.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tbilisi’s desire to seize back Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force had killed all hopes for their peaceful co-existence in one state with Georgia. Russian tanks and troops continue to occupy parts of Georgia after crushing Tbilisi’s bid to retake South Ossetia -- the first time Moscow has sent troops into another country since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

EU president France earlier this month brokered a ceasefire in the conflict and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would talk to Russia’s leadership before Monday’s emergency EU summit on the crisis to get the bloc’s viewpoint across. “I think each and every member state is very clear ... that it is of the utmost importance to find a common position, and I am going to do whatever I can so that we succeed,” she said.


Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose attempt this month to retake South Ossetia sparked the war with Russia, said the fate of the free world was being played out in his country. “The Russian Federation’s actions are an attempt to militarily annex a sovereign nation -- the nation of Georgia,” he said in a statement. “This a challenge to the entire world. Not just Georgia.” In an interview later with Reuters, he said: “The point here is the Russians are bluffing and they’re overplaying their hand.” But he added that Europe was in “mortal danger” from its reliance on Russian energy and Georgia could further develop its role as a transit state to help reduce that dependence.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was due in Kiev to meet the leadership of Ukraine, home to a large Russian-speaking population and a major Russian naval base. “I am holding talks today with international partners and will be visiting Ukraine ... to ensure the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia,” Miliband said on Tuesday.

Ukraine, like Georgia, has angered Moscow by actively seeking membership of NATO. But divisions within the pro-Western camp there may complicate Miliband’s mission. President Viktor Yushchenko believes Ukraine should enter NATO and the European Union but Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has grown cool towards NATO membership, which is unpopular with voters. The West could exlude Russia from some top world bodies but its ability to punish Moscow is limited given Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council. The West also needs Moscow’s support over Iran’s nuclear program and supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The United States appeared to pull back from the prospect of an immediate confrontation with Russia, canceling the delivery of relief supplies by US warships to Poti, a busy Georgia cargo port still patrolled by Russian forces. Kremlin chief Medvedev said he did not want a new Cold War with the West but was not scared of one. And he told Europe, a major consumer of Russian oil and gas, that it had to decide what sort of ties it wanted with Moscow. “The ball is in the Europeans’ court. If they want a worsening in relations, they will get it of course,” he told France’s LCI television. “If they want to maintain strategic relations, which is in my opinion totally in the interests of Russia and Europe, everything will go well.” Europe and Russia are major trading partners and the conflict has rattled financial markets as well as raising concerns over the stability of a key oil and gas transit route from the Caspian Sea.



The United States has meagre options for punishing Russia for recognizing rebel regions of Georgia because it needs Moscow’s help in trying to stop Iran’s nuclear program and dismantle North Korea’s atomic arsenal. Washington could move to exclude Russia from global clubs like the World Trade Organization, but analysts say it would not have much impact now that Russia has defied the West and recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. “A country that was emboldened to roll over Georgia and rip off its territory is not going to get frightened by the WTO or the G8. They are past that now,” said Janusz Bugajski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.

The United States has already taken some small steps against Russia since US ally Georgia and Russia briefly went to war over separatist South Ossetia earlier this month. The United States has cancelled a military exercise with Russia, and has warned that Moscow was risking its membership in global clubs like the WTO and Group of Eight nations. US officials said they were considering whether to withdraw a civilian nuclear cooperation pact with the Kremlin. They also signed a pact with Poland to station parts of a US missile defense shield on Polish soil, but insisted that it was not related to the Georgia crisis.

Then Russia went further on Tuesday by recognizing both South Ossetia and another breakaway region of Georgia, Abkhazia, as independent states. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded by warning that the United States would block any Russian attempt at the United Nations to change international borders. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the US government was weighing other options but declined to discuss them. Military intervention to support Georgia against Russia has appeared unthinkable.

If Washington imposes sanctions on Moscow, it could in turn see Moscow refuse to go along with new sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, said Dimitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center in Washington. The Kremlin is unlikely to accept punishment on one track and deliver “goodies” to the West on the other, he said, adding that Russia might look elsewhere for friends. “If they feel that a Western orientation is not an option, they will be looking for friends where they can find them, starting with Tehran and Caracas,” he said, referring to the capitals of Iran and Venezuela, whose leaders routinely berate the United States.


Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations said Moscow’s recognition of Georgia’s rebel regions appeared to be “tit for tat” for US recognition of Kosovo earlier this year. Kosovo was part of Serbia when it declared independence in February and was recognized by the United States and many European Union countries, but not Russia. But Kupchan said Moscow’s new move recognizing the breakaway regions of Georgia was so clumsy it might help unify the West behind the idea that Russia must be punished in some way. “I think you will now see a more unified position, that Russia is clearly overstepping its bounds and must be contained,” he said.

Bugajski said Washington had the option of making life difficult in Russia’s backyard by pushing NATO to commit to membership for Ukraine and Georgia -- and even supporting secessionist movements inside Russia, such as in Chechnya. “I’m not saying we should support them (secessionist movements in Russia), I’m saying that’s a potential option,” Bugajski said. “If the Russians are playing a dirty game, we shouldn’t be a nice guy. This is not a vicar’s tea party.” But Simes suggested that Washington and Moscow could follow what he called “the Kosovo formula” and agree to disagree about the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, so long as Russia completely withdraws its troops from the rest of Georgia.

After a cooling-down period, the United States should be prepared to pursue arrangements with Russia that are in the West’s interests, such as arms control negotiations, he said. “Shooting ourselves in the second foot because the first is already wounded is not a very good policy,” he said. (Reuters)

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