Russia turns to Asia amid fury over Georgia

August 28, 2008 12:00 am

, MOSCOW, August 28 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev turned to Asian allies Thursday for support in the crisis as the Group of Seven condemned Moscow in a standoff that is stoking fears of a new Cold War.

Medvedev joined Chinese President Hu Jintao and leaders of , , and for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, set up in 2001 to counter NATO influence in Central Asia.

The summit opened after the Group of Seven industrialised powers strongly condemned ‘s recognition of ‘s rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

"We deplore ‘s excessive use of military force in and its continued occupation of parts of ," said the statement from , , , , , and the .

lashed out at the West for ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea and warned that attempts to isolate Moscow would have harmful economic effects.

A new protest came from Georgian ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze, who said would regret its recognition of the regions.

"They will live to regret it," Shevardnadze said in an interview with ‘s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, adding that the move would "encourage separatist movements within ethnically diverse ."

Shevardnadze called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in ‘s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

On a visit to , British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned not to start a new Cold War.

But he also conceded that isolating would be counterproductive because the West relied on cooperation with Moscow to tackle global problems like climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.

"The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don’t want one," Miliband said in an address to students in Kiev on Wednesday.

"He has a big responsibility not to start one," he added.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with his Georgian and Russian counterparts on Wednesday, pursuing diplomatic efforts to shore up a fragile six-point ceasefire plan he brokered this month.

The French presidency said Sarkozy had spoken "at length" with Medvedev and "underlined the urgent neccesity to lower tension and to fully apply the six points of the ceasefire agreement."

Moscow launched its own diplomatic push, and Medevedev was to discuss the crisis with Hu and the leaders of four Central Asian states, plus and , during the summit in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.

"Of course we’re going to discuss it. That doesn’t mean we’re going to force people to recognise" the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters.

Russian officials said they were monitoring a growing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, as the second of three ships sent to deliver aid arrived in .

Moscow has accused the West of using aid shipments as a cover for rearming after the Russian military surge into this month left much of the Georgian military in tatters.

"Certainly some measures of precaution are being taken," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov. "It’s not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aid using battleships."

In a reminder of ‘s energy muscle, he also warned against trying to isolate Moscow.

"Any attempts to jeopardise this atmosphere of cooperation… would not only (have) a negative impact for but will definitely harm the economic interests of those states," Peskov said.

moved its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi, where they got a rapturous reception from Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh.

In Tbilisi, the secretary of the Georgian national Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, told AFP that Russian troops would leave the key Black Sea port of Poti on Thursday or Friday "as a result of international pressure."

No confirmation of such a move was forthcoming from the Russian side.

Tbilisi also said it was downgrading diplomatic ties with Moscow.

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili told AFP that Tbilisi was pulling all but two of its diplomats from its Moscow embassy in Moscow and would not have an ambassador there.

In the Georgian port of Batumi, the second of three ships sent by Washington arrived with aid for some of the 100,000 people that the UN refugee agnecy estimates have been displaced in the conflict.

Moscow argues that it recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia to protect their citizens after Russian forces poured into earlier this month to repel a Georgian attack on South Ossetia.


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