Georgia: Cold war map will not be redrawn, US warns Russia

Posted in NATO , Europe , Russia , United States | 20-Aug-08 | Author: Ian Traynor and Julian Borger| Source: The Guardian (UK)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives at a news conference during a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, August 19, 2008.

The Bush administration warned Russia yesterday that it would fail in its "strategic objective" of redrawing Europe's post-cold war map by invading Georgia, as 26 Nato countries declared there would be "no business as usual" with Moscow until it withdraws its forces from Georgia.

An emergency meeting in Brussels of Nato foreign ministers voiced strong support for Georgia and agreed to establish new structures cementing Georgia's links with the west, but avoided speeding up moves to bring Georgia into Nato.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, accused Russian forces in Georgia of "bombing civilians and wanton destruction" and told the Kremlin that the Russian government had hard choices to make if it wanted to avoid international isolation. The ministers opted to freeze sessions of the six-year-old Nato-Russia council until the Russian retreat was completed.

"This Nato which has come so far in a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe," said Rice.

With the US, Britain, and the former Soviet satellites of central Europe adopting a robust position on the Kremlin's conduct, the more pro-Russian governments in the European Union such as Germany, Italy, and France were muted yesterday.

French, British and US officials are drafting a UN security council resolution in New York stiffening the terms of a Russian pullout, and agreement was reached to deploy the first western monitors in Georgia. Twenty unarmed military officers are to go to Georgia tomorrow, with another 80 expected to follow within weeks.

But the agreement to deploy international monitors took a week to finalise and was only sealed after negotiations through the night yesterday in Vienna by Finnish diplomats and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, together with the Russians and the Georgians.

The agreement suited the Russians, who had insisted the monitors not be permitted into South Ossetia. The observers are to patrol in "Georgia proper" and in what the Russians describe as their "security zone" bordering South Ossetia.

"The Russian side supports the deployment of a considerable number of additional observers in the security zone," said the Russian foreign ministry.

"There is no security zone," the US under-secretary of state, Dan Fried, told the Guardian.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, flew straight from Brussels to Tbilisi last night to voice British and Nato support. Standing alongside the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, Miliband promised "an intensification of the relationship between Nato and Georgia" through the formation of a joint commission to enhance cooperation.

There was no mention, however, of when the process of Georgia's accession might begin.

"It's very, very important that Georgian people know that the British government and British people stand in solidarity with them against threats to them, their life, their livelihood and their country."

Saakashvili responded that he was "thrilled and gratified by the support and solidarity the UK government and Mr Miliband himself has showed to our people".

Despite the tougher rhetoric and a mood of increasing exasperation with Moscow, the Russians toyed with the Georgians and the west, sending mixed signals about the withdrawal they signed up for last week.

A small Russian armoured convoy was reported to have left Gori heading north. At the same time a prisoner exchange was carried out at the frontline village of Igoeti, 27 miles west of Tbilisi. Fifteen Georgians were swapped for five Russians.

However, elsewhere in Georgia, Russian troops appeared to be expanding their operations. In the Black Sea port of Poti, well outside the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Russians arrested, blindfolded and drove away 20 Georgian port police and seized US-supplied Humvee vehicles.

A spokesman for Georgia's interior ministry, Shota Utiashvili, said the Russians had looted commercial shipping offices. "They took everything from cars to toilet paper, and everything they didn't take, they destroyed," he told the Guardian.

The deputy head of Russia's general staff, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, confirmed the seizure of the Humvees. "We are not pulling troops out, we're pulling them back. Pull back - this is the term we use," he said, suggesting Russian forces would remain in the provinces.

Lawrence Sheets, the Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, said Russian tactics appeared to be aimed at "sowing total confusion and wearing the Georgians down". He added that their task was made easier by the deal negotiated by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. The ambiguities in it have "allowed the Russians to manipulate it", he said.