MOSCOW, September 3 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow no longer considered Mikheil Saakashvili as Georgia’s leader, calling him a "political corpse" and accusing his regime of "aggression that ended in many deaths.",
In Tbilisi, Georgia’s top security official accused Medvedev of having "lost control" after the Kremlin leader’s remarks.
Speaking in an interview ahead of US Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Georgia, Medvedev again accused Washington of helping Tbilisi "build its war machine" and urged the United States to review its relations with the country.
"For us, the present Georgian regime has collapsed. President Saakashvili no longer exists in our eyes. He is a political corpse," Medvedev said in the interview broadcast on Russian television.
Medvedev said Moscow was ready to hold talks with the international community "on all sorts of questions, including post-conflict resolution in the region" of the Caucasus.
"But we would like the international community to remember who began the aggression and who is responsible for people’s deaths," he said.
The Kremlin leader said the US should reconsider its relations with Tbilisi "because it has put Georgia in a very difficult position, caused serious destabilisation and launched an aggression that ended in many deaths."
In a swift retort, Georgia’s national Security Council secretary Alexander Lomaia told AFP: "It’s utterly deplorable for the leader of a great country to use methods unacceptable in a civilised world to undermine the legitimacy of the Georgian government."
"The Russian president has lost control, because his efforts to depose the Georgian government have failed.
"The Georgian president is a democratically-elected leader, he and his government enjoy the support of the Georgian people and the international community," Lomaia added.
The strong rhetoric came as Cheney headed to Georgia in a show of support for the former Soviet republic that has been seeking to join NATO.
He will be the highest-ranking US official to visit Tbilisi since Russian tanks rolled into its smaller neighbour in early August and fought a five-day war over the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia.
Medvedev’s interview was broadcast after Moscow claimed victory Tuesday following a European Union emergency summit, where EU leaders stepped back from imposing sanctions over Russia’s partial occupation of Georgia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who retains huge power after leaving the presidency earlier this year, praised what he called the EU’s "common sense."
EU leaders decided at the summit in Brussels on Monday to freeze talks on a new strategic EU-Russia accord.
But the bloc did not accept proposals by Britain and eastern European nations for harder measures, including sanctions, over Russia’s August military offensive in Georgia and recognition of two separatist regions.
"Thank God, common sense prevailed. We saw no extreme conclusions and proposals, and this is very good," Putin said in comments shown on NTV television.
Saakashvili, meanwhile, pointed to the moratorium on EU-Russia partnership talks as proof of Western solidarity behind Georgia.
"Russia failed to break the unity at the heart of Europe," he told France 24 television.
US President George W. Bush, one of Moscow’s harshest critics during the crisis, also "expressed appreciation for the EU sending strong messages," the White House said.
The Russian foreign ministry said that "the intention to freeze talks about a new partnership agreement is a cause for regret."
Medvedev had earlier criticised what he called the EU’s failure to understand Russian motives for going to war in Georgia.
"Unfortunately there is still no full understanding of the motives of the leadership of the Russian Federation when it took the decision to repel the aggression of Georgia," Medvedev said, according to state news agency ITAR-TASS.
However, Russia will fulfill all its contractual gas export commitments to the European Union, Medvedev also told Euronews television Tuesday.
"We will respect all our obligations as the principal provider of hydrocarbons to Europe," he said.
Moscow says that troops were sent to repulse an attempt by Georgia to restore control over South Ossetia, a tiny region where the local ethnic Ossetian population broke away with Russian backing in the 1990s.
Last week the Kremlin recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. No other country has yet followed suit.
Georgia says the Russian incursion was part of a plan to annex its territory and bring down Saakashvili’s government, which wants Georgia to join NATO and has positioned the country as a key export route for Caspian Sea energy.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to NATO-member Turkey that the alliance had been arming Georgia ahead of the conflict.
He also reiterated Russia’s support for sending an international police mission to Georgia to help maintain security around South Ossetia and another secessionist region, Abhkazia.
However, the Russian envoy to the European Union was cautious on this issue, saying that the rebel governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia would also have to agree.
"So far they said they would accept only Russian peacekeepers," he said.
Both rebel areas have made formal requests to host Russian military bases, a move that Georgia says underlines Moscow’s desire to annex the territories and weaken its statehood.