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World lashes Russia over Georgia conflict

A Russian soldier holds his rifle next to a military truck August 13, 2008 as a convoy of Russian forces leaves the town of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi. Separatist fighters and Russian troops looted and set homes ablaze in Georgia amid mutual recriminations over breaches of a truce that ended five days of bitter conflict. A day after the truce was brokered by France, Russia faced mounting criticism in the West for its military offensive and US President George W. Bush demanded that Russian troops withdraw from Georgia. Russian armoured vehicles patrolled Gori, the flashpoint Georgian town between the capital and South Ossetia, the breakaway region at the centre of the conflict. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 13, 2008
Russia faced a global blacklash Wednesday over its attacks on Georgia, as the United States and European nations began to review key military and diplomatic ties with Moscow.

Leading world condemnation of Russia, US President George W. Bush warned US support for Russian entry "into the diplomatic, political, economic, and security structures of the 21st century" was "at risk."

In the first concrete demonstration of international anger, Washington cancelled joint annual military exercises due to start on Friday with Britain, France and Russia.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the August 15-23 FRUKUS naval exercise in the Sea of Japan "just wasn't appropriate in the current situation."

Bush said he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France and then to Georgia to discuss efforts to halt the fighting.

Rice would meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy before heading to Tbilisi to meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to "personally convey America's unwavering support for Georgia's democratic government," he added.

Rice later warned Russia that it faced isolation if it failed to respect the ceasefire agreed with Georgia.

"I have to say that the reports are not encouraging about Russia's respect for the ceasefire -- for the pledge that it undertook," Rice said.

"That will only serve to deepen the isolation into which Russia is moving," she told reporters.

Bush also voiced concern over reports that Moscow had not halted military action, and warned it had much work ahead to rebuild ties.

"To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe, and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis," Bush said.

In a further blow to Russia, Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree imposing new restrictions on its Black Sea fleet, which is based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

The restrictions require the Black Sea fleet to seek Ukrainian permission "at least 72 hours prior to ships or aircraft crossing the Ukrainian border," Yushchenko's office said in a statement.

If Russia does not fulfil the new requirements, Ukraine "may demand that naval ships ... and aircraft of the Black Sea fleet leave" Ukraine's territory immediately, the statement said.

Moscow, which has maintained its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 swiftly condemned Ukraine's decision as "a serious new anti-Russian step."

"The innovation is aimed at creating serious difficulties for the practical activities of the fleet, directly contradicting" a key bilateral agreement, a foreign ministry statement said.

As an international aid operation for Georgia also swung into action, European foreign ministers said the EU would review ties with Russia after the week's bloodshed.

The fighting was triggered when Russian military forces attacked Georgia's South Ossetia region on Friday in response to a Georgian bid to regain control of the pro-Moscow rebel region which broke from Tbilisi in the early 1990s.

EU ministers expressed their "grave concern" over the explosion of violence in the south Caucasus amid pressure from some, mainly eastern European member states, to punish Moscow for its actions.

Lithuania's Foreign Secretary Petras Vaitiekunas reflected a hardline stance in eastern Europe on Moscow's role, saying "of course some consequences must appear of the aggression" displayed by Russia in Georgia.

NATO nations also prepared for an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels next week, after earlier condemning Russia's "excessive, disproportionate use of force."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the 27-member EU bloc was willing to monitor the truce but refrained from mentioning a peacekeeping force, which Georgia has requested.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also slammed Russia's response to the Georgian bid to regain control of South Ossetia.

"The sight of Russian tanks in Gori, Russian tanks in Senaki, the Russian blockade of Poti, the Georgian port, are a chilling reminder of times that I think we had hoped had gone by."

Meanwhile, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country chairs Europe's security body the the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged all parties in the conflict to respect the fragile ceasefire.

Stubb said once the ceasefire was shored up the next step would be to get humanitarian aid into the region and to monitor the truce.

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Pentagon confirms cancellation of naval exercise
Washington (AFP) Aug 13, 2008
The United States has cancelled a naval exercise with Russia in response to the conflict in Georgia, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

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