Russia says Washington fanning Georgia instability

Russia on Wednesday accused the United States of stirring up instability in Georgia, hours after US Vice-President Dick Cheney landed in the region to show support for Washington’s ex-Soviet allies.

The US has condemned Russia for sending troops and tanks into Georgia last month but Moscow has countered by alleging that Washington helped spark the conflict by failing to rein in its ally, Georgia.

Cheney flew into Azerbaijan, Georgia’s oil-producing neighbour that has close ties to the US, on the first leg of a tour that will also include Georgia and Ukraine.

”We need to wait until Mr Cheney is actually in Georgia to see how he assesses the situation,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrei Nesterenko told a news briefing.

”But all these calls on Tbilisi [by the US] about the need to restore all of its destroyed military capability and so on do not in any way promote the stabilisation of the situation in the region,” he said.

Underlining Washington’s backing for Georgia, the USS Mount Whitney, the sophisticated command warship of the US Sixth Fleet, was ”en route to Georgia” loaded with more than 17 tons of humanitarian aid, a navy spokesperson said.

US President George Bush’s administration will announce on Wednesday a package of roughly $1-billion in aid to help rebuild Georgia, an administration official said. The International Monetary Fund has approved a $750-million standby loan for Georgia, economic development minister Eka Sharashidze said.

Energy corridor
Azerbaijan and Georgia are links in the chain of a Western-backed energy corridor bypassing Russia, which the West fears could be in jeopardy after the Kremlin sent its troops deep into Georgia.

Cheney met representatives of BP and Chevron, two oil majors involved in a pipeline that pumps up to one million barrels of crude a day — or about 1% of world output — to world markets from Azerbaijan, through Georgia.

The oil company executives ”gave their assessments of the energy situation in Azerbaijan and the broader Caspian region — especially in light of Russia’s recent military actions in Georgia”, said Megan Mitchell, a spokesperson for Cheney.

Cheney’s visit is aimed at ”sending a regional signal that America hasn’t walked away from the region”, said Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Russia drew Western condemnation by sending its forces deep into Georgia and later recognising the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Russia said it was morally obliged to attack Georgia to prevent what it called genocide after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia by force. Moscow says it is in full compliance with a French-brokered ceasefire.

Kremlin criticism of Washington contrasts with the more conciliatory language it uses about the European Union, which on Monday threatened to suspend talks on a partnership pact but rejected sanctions against Russia, its biggest energy supplier.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is to visit Moscow and Tbilisi next week for talks on the stand-off.

The Kremlin said Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed Georgia in a telephone call on Wednesday.

Medvedev said the EU had adopted a ”generally balanced” approach on Georgia, but he expressed regret that the 27-member bloc did not identify Tbilisi as the aggressor in the conflict, a Kremlin statement said.

In an effort to show Russia could still act as honest broker in separatist conflicts, Medvedev was expected to press for a peaceful settlement when he meets the head of a breakaway region in ex-Soviet Moldova on Wednesday. — Reuters

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