(AFP) – Aug 29, 2008
TBILISI (AFP) — Georgia on Friday broke diplomatic relations with Russia, heightening hostilities between the neighbours as Moscow also hit back at Western criticism.
Georgia announced the split three days after Russia formally recognised the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
"Georgia is cutting diplomatic ties with the Russian Federation," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told AFP. "In such situations, Russian diplomats will have to leave Georgia."
"Only consular relations will be maintained," he added.
Russia said the move would not help ease the crisis between the two caused by their five-day war this month.
"We regret this step from the Georgian side. It will not assist our bilateral relations," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said, according to Interfax news agency.
Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said it "would be very awkward to have a diplomatic relationship... with Russia, when Russia will be setting up diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia."
Speaking to reporters in Stockholm, she said a diplomatic rupture would be a temporary measure that could be ended after Russia stopped occupying Georgian territory.
Russia has turned its campaign against the West, strongly attacking criticism from NATO and the Group of Seven industrialised powers.
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.
A Russian foreign ministry statement accused the G7 of being "biased" in favour of Tbilisi and seeking to "justify Georgian acts of aggression".
NATO has also strongly condemned Russia's actions in Georgia, but Russian 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.
An emergency EU summit is to be held on Monday and the French presidency said sanctions would not be called for, contradicting comments made Thursday by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Russia appealed for "reason" to prevail at the summit and for EU leaders to avoid the "path of confrontation."
"We hope that reason will prevail over emotions," Nesterenko said.
But Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin insisted that Russia's massive oil and gas supplies to Europe would not be affected by the Georgia tensions.
Britain and Germany have led calls for measures to reduce Europe's heavy dependency on Russian oil and gas.
"Even during the Cold War, regardless of political or other circumstances, the Soviet Union always promptly met its contractual obligations to deliver energy to Europe, and Russia, being a responsible and reliable partner, will also uphold such principles," Sechin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Russia maintains it has completed a troop withdrawal from inside Georgia, in line with a ceasefire accord brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and that remaining troops are on a "peacekeeping" mission.
But it has faced relentless international pressure, which has brought relations with the United States and its allies to a post-Cold War low.
The war of words between Russia and the West hit a new peak when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the United States of provoking the conflict, in an interview to CNN.
Putin said the US administration had a hand in the war that erupted after Georgian forces tried to take back control of South Ossetia, and drew a link with the US presidential campaign.
The White House dismissed the accusations as "patently false."
US Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Georgia on Tuesday in a new show of western support for the Tbilisi government.
No other country has recognised South Ossetia or Abkhazia but Moscow's close ally Belarus said the issue could be taken up at a meeting between Russia and six former Soviet states next Friday.
The crisis in Georgia may prompt the NATO military bloc to significantly boost its presence close to former Soviet space, Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko warned Friday as quoted by his press-service.
Events in Georgia "made the international situation much more tense, the direct consequence being a forceful strengthening of NATO's military and political position, and all that will be happening close to our borders," Lukashenko said.
"I think we will shortly be witness to a dramatic change of the East-West policies," he added.
South Ossetia meanwhile announced a deal to be signed next week to allow Russia to set up military bases in the Georgian breakaway region.
Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia on August 8, one day after Georgia launched a military offensive to reclaim control of the rebel province from Russian-backed separatists.
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