(AFP) – Aug 30, 2008
MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made fresh accusations of US involvement in the Georgia conflict and rejected suggestions Moscow could target Ukraine next, in an interview aired Saturday.
The powerful former Kremlin leader urged the European Union to refrain from imposing sanctions against Russia when it meets for an emergency summit on Monday.
A transcript of the interview to Germany's ARD television was released by the Russian government Saturday and excerpts were broadcast on Russian television.
Putin spoke after Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia on Friday, three days after Moscow formally recognised the independence of two Georgian secessionist regions.
"We know there were many US advisors there," Putin said, reiterating remarks he had made in a previous interview to CNN.
"But these 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," he said.
"Why did the senior US leadership allow their citizens to be present there when they had no right to be in the security zone? And if they allowed it, I begin to suspect that it was done intentionally to organise a small victorious war.
"And if that failed, they wanted to create 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 resource," he said.
The White House has dismissed the accusations as "patently false".
Putin also rejected suggestions from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Russia could have designs on other former Soviet republics -- specifically Ukraine -- after sending troops deep inside Georgia this month.
"We have long ago recognised the borders of modern-day Ukraine," he said.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been strained over Kiev's demands that Moscow prepare the withdrawal of Russia's Black Sea fleet from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where the Russian fleet has been based for 200 years.
But Putin offered reassurances that the fleet will eventually leave Crimea: "We have an agreement with Ukraine about maintaining the presence of our fleet until the year 2017 and we will implement that agreement."
Putin, who left the Kremlin in May after eight years as president, urged EU leaders to show "common sense" and make an "objective assessment" of the conflict that erupted after a Georgian offensive to retake breakaway South Ossetia.
EU leaders want to send the message that they disapprove of Russia's actions in Georgia but the French EU presidency has made clear they will not opt for sanctions.
"If I were to say that we don't care, that we were indifferent, I would be lying," Putin said ahead of the EU summit.
He also asserted that Russia "of course will leave these positions where we are now... We will not remain there forever".
"Our goal is only to provide security in the region."
Russia pulled out the bulk of its forces from Georgia last week and maintains that those left behind are serving in a peacekeeping mission. Georgia describes the troops as an "occupation force."
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.
The Russian foreign ministry on Friday accused the Group of Seven industrialised countries of bias in the conflict and Western powers of seeking to "justify Georgian acts of aggression."
The G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- had called on Russia to "implement in full" a French-brokered peace plan and pull all forces out of Georgia.
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.
NATO has also strongly condemned Russia's actions in Georgia, but foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko hit back saying the Western alliance had "no moral right to the role of mentor in matters of international relations and to judge the actions of other states."
NATO is putting "unacceptable pressure" on Russia, Nesterenko said, in an apparent reference to the presence of alliance ships in the Black Sea, including several US naval vessels delivering aid to Georgia.
US Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Georgia on Tuesday in a new show of Western support for the Tbilisi government.
Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia on August 8, one day after Tbilisi launched a military offensive to reclaim control of the rebel province from Russian-backed separatists.
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