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Analysis: EU-Russia crisis intensifies

Russian troops partrol in the South Ossetia town Tskhinvali on August 25, 2008. Leaders of Russia's main pro-Kremlin political party, which holds a majority in the Russian parliament, will back recognising the independence of two Georgian rebel regions, news agencies reported. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Aug 25, 2008
After days of cautious warnings, the European Union over the weekend upped the pressure on Russia to withdraw all its troops from Georgian territory.

The French government, currently holder of the rotating EU presidency, over the weekend called for an EU summit in Brussels on Sept. 1 to address the conflict in Georgia -- a sign that Europe is growing increasingly frustrated with Russia's behavior in the Caucasus. In a statement issued by the Elysee Palace Sunday, Paris said the summit was called after several European nations had requested it.

Only a day later, in a move that is poised to further strain the troubled relationship between Russia and the West, the upper house of the Russian Parliament unanimously approved a resolution urging Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Russia before the war had promised to abide by international law and not recognize the Georgian provinces; this has changed now, it seems -- the Parliament is in the hands of Medvedev's party colleagues.

It seems the grace period for Russia is drawing to a close in Europe, a continent that had been at odds between forces calling to reprimand Russia for its military campaign in Georgia and those who have argued that Russia can only be tamed if all diplomatic channels connecting Brussels and Moscow remain open. Even Germany, which over the past days had tried to appease its colleagues in the United States, the Baltics and Central Europe, is now issuing harsher words in the direction of Moscow.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday urged Medvedev not to sign the resolution. "Otherwise we would have a very difficult, critical situation," she said after talks with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm. Merkel once again urged Russia to withdraw all its troops from Georgia.

Washington, together with the Baltics and states in Central Europe, has been very quick to condemn Russia's actions in Georgia, which include what Western observers say has been a disproportionate military reaction to Tbilisi's attack on South Ossetia and a rather hesitant pullout from Georgia since the EU-brokered six-point postwar agreement on Aug. 12.

"We are not satisfied żż that the six-point plan hasn't been completed yet," Merkel said Monday, adding that Berlin was now ready to back NATO membership for Georgia, a measure Merkel had been critical of before the war.

Moscow has claimed it has pulled out its armed forces, but reports say several hundred "peacekeeping troops" remain in the country, stationed at strategic military and infrastructure points all over Georgia. The Kremlin argues the troops are needed to guarantee the security of people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This has angered Paris, causing French President Nicolas Sarkozy to telephone his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, urging him to remove all Russian troops from Georgian soil. Last week Sarkozy issued the harshest warning to Moscow of a Western European politician to date: He said Russia would face "serious consequences" if its troops weren't withdrawn in accordance with the six-point cease-fire agreement.

Observers fear Russia's real intention is to damage Georgia economically and militarily, reprimanding the Georgian government under President Mikheil Saakashvili for the pro-Western course it has steered over the past years. The Kremlin denies this, arguing it had to protect Russians in the provinces from further attacks by the Georgian military.

Yet Moscow countered Cold War scenarios, pushing aside fears that it wants to reclaim Georgia to rebuild parts of the former Soviet Union.

"No serious politician in Russia, and especially not President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, think that way," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Spiegel Online in an interview.

Around Georgia, officials do not fully trust those statements, however. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, another pro-Western leader, said over the weekend his government will try to speed up NATO membership for Ukraine and raise its military capabilities.

"Only these steps will guarantee our security and the integrity of our borders," Yushchenko said.

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NATO insists Russia ties depend on Georgia plan compliance
Brussels (AFP) Aug 25, 2008
NATO insisted Monday that its ties with Russia hinge on Moscow's compliance with a Georgian peace plan, after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned of a possible break in relations.

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