Russia reaches out to EU as Georgia calls for sanctions
Monday, 01 September 2008

AFP, MOSCOW  - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged the European Union to ignore calls to punish Moscow over the Georgia conflict as Tbilisi appealed Saturday for targeted punishment of the Russian leadership.

The former Kremlin leader also renewed accusations of US involvement in the fighting this month between Russian and Georgian forces over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Putin spoke after Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia and Moscow hit back at the West for condemning its decision to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia.
EU leaders are holding an emergency summit on Monday to increase pressure on Russia but the French EU presidency has made clear they will not opt for sanctions.
Putin, who left the Kremlin in May after eight years as president, acknowledged that Russia was worried about calls for sanctions or other harsh meaures from some EU governments.
"If I were to say that we don't care, that we were indifferent, I would be lying," Putin said in an interview to Germany's ARD television.
He urged leaders of the 27-nation bloc to show "common sense" and make an "objective assessment" of the conflict that began after a Georgian offensive to retake breakaway South Ossetia.
A transcript of the interview to Germany's ARD television was released by the Russian government Saturday and footage was broadcast on Russian television.
Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili however called for Russian leaders to be punished with targeted sanctions.
"There is no point in isolating Russia," the minister told AFP in Tbilisi.
"But we expect certain sanctions, which won't be against the people, but against the political elite."
The minister did not specify what the sanctions against Russian leaders could involve, although such measures often include travel bans or the freezing of overseas bank accounts.
Georgia on Saturday also imposed visa restrictions on Russian citizens, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying it was a tit-for-tat measure. The new visa regime will take effect on September 8.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said he supported calls for stripping Moscow of the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, in an interview published Saturday.
"Organising a celebration of peace and sport in an area near where there was a massacre and a war of aggression seems to me to be a strange idea," Schwarzenberg told the Austrian Die Presse newspaper.
Russia has faced an avalanche of criticism from the West after the five day war and its formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Moscow has pulled back the bulk of its forces and maintains that the troops left behind are serving in a peacekeeping mission. Georgia has labelled them an occupation force.
Putin however said Russian troops "of course will leave these positions where we are now... We will not remain there forever".
He also rejected suggestions from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that other former Soviet republics -- in particular Ukraine -- could be Russia's next target.
"We have long ago recognised the borders of modern-day Ukraine," he said, adding that Russia would abide by a pact that allows its Black Sea fleet to remain based in Crimea only until 2017.
Putin renewed a claim that he suspected Washington provoked the conflict to whip up anti-Russian sentiment, hoping it would boost the chances of Republican candidate John McCain, who has taken a tough line on Russia.
"They wanted to make an enemy out of Russia and unite voters around one of the presidential candidates, of course, a ruling party candidate, because it is only the ruling party that has this kind of resources," he said.
"We know there were many US advisors there," Putin said, reiterating remarks he had made in a previous interview to CNN television.
Putin said the US "instructors, teachers in a general sense, personnel who trained others to work on the supplied military equipment, are supposed to be in training centers and where were they? In the military operations zone."
"Why did the senior US leadership allow their citizens to be present there... ? And if they allowed it, I begin to suspect that it was done intentionally to organise a small victorious war," he said.
The White House has dismissed the accusations as "patently false".
German weekly Der Spiegel separately reported that OSCE observers were blaming Georgia for triggering the crisis in a series of unofficial reports to the German government.
Military monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Georgia had made extensive preparations for the offensive on the breakaway region of South Ossetia on August 7.
Russia responded by sending a massive force of tanks, troops, warplanes and naval vessels, before agreeing to a six-point ceasefire agreement brokered by France five days later.
Russia says it has implemented the agreement. It has also cited examples of Georgian non-compliance and accuses the West of selectively focusing only on Russian obligations under the pact.

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