August 29, 2008
The Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin accused the United States of provoking a war in Georgia to improve Republican prospects in November’s presidential election.
By Damien McElroy in Tbilisi and Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
In comments designed to inflame tensions between the two countries, Mr Putin told CNN: "The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president." The White House dismissed Mr Putin’s suggestion it had orchestrated the conflict as "not rational".
Russia earlier forced to rebuff a French threat that the European Union would consider imposing sanctions at an emergency summit on the crisis in Georgia on Monday.
The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said sanctions were among the options being considered as a formal rebuke for Russia’s military incursion into Georgia.
But he conceded that the move would split the efforts to present a united European front. "Some will propose sanctions, others will be against," he said. "Sanctions will certainly be brought up."
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, mocked Mr Kouchner’s statement. "Apart from that, my friend Kouchner also said that we will soon attack Moldova and Ukraine and the Crimea," he said. "But that is a sick imagination and probably that applies to sanctions as well. I think it is a demonstration of complete confusion."
Brussels diplomats played down the comments by Mr Kouchner following talks between EU ambassadors.
"Kouchner has jumped the gun a bit by talking about sanctions. This summit should be more about helping Georgia than just Russia bashing," said one diplomat.
"The emphasis will be on aid, Russian compliance with the six-point ceasefire agreement and the EU presence on the ground."
A partnership agreement between the EU and Russia has expired and talks to renew it were expected to begin next month. The summit will probably decide to defer these negotiations.
Sanctions such as visa restrictions or targeted travel bans might be a later option but would be limited in scope and would take weeks of preparation, said another official.
With much of the continent dependent on exports of Russia oil and gas, the prospects of the union imposing meaningful penalties must be seen as remote. But a row on the issue would deal a heavy blow to the bloc’s credibility.
Divisions between Russia’s neighbours and some of the EU’s biggest powers, notably Germany and Italy, have been kept in the shadows by tough rhetoric calling for a Russian withdrawal to ceasefire lines.
While fighting has stopped, the ceasefire deal brokered by President Nicolas Sarzoky is in tatters. Russia defends its continuing heavy troop presence across north and west Georgia as a necessary barrier to further Georgian aggression.
An official of the Russian-backed South Ossetian government claimed yesterday claimed it had shot down an unmanned Georgian drone over the breakaway region.
Russia moved a step closer to gaining further international recognition of South Ossetia and a second enclave, Abkhazia. A hint from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, a close Kremlin ally, that it would extend recognition is however unlikely to boost the international credibility of the statelets.