/ 19 September 2008

Aggressor Russia facing pariah status, US warns

The Bush administration on Thursday night accused the Kremlin of aggression and authoritarianism and said Moscow’s main aim in invading Georgia last month was to overthrow the country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

In the strongest attack since Russian forces routed Georgia’s military in a five-day war last month, the United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said President Dmitry Medvedev and his Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, had launched Russia on a path to pariah status.

The US broadside came as attempts to deploy scores of military monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Georgia’s conflict zones collapsed on Thursday when Russia refused to allow them to patrol in South Ossetia, the breakaway region of northern Georgia bordering Russia that Moscow has recognised as an independent state.

Weeks of negotiations at the OSCE’s headquarters in Vienna ended in failure when the Russians stiffened the terms for the proposed deployments to rule out any international presence in South Ossetia, Western diplomats said.

The OSCE already had an agreement to send 100 military observers to Georgia, but negotiations over their mandate were gridlocked when the US and European allies rejected Russia’s new terms. ”There was no basis for consensus,” said the OSCE’s Finnish presidency. ”There is no point in continuing negotiations.”

The OSCE has eight military monitors in Georgia who are mandated to operate in South Ossetia, but the Russians have not allowed them to enter the contested region since the war ended last month.

The invasion of Georgia was but one element in growing Russian aggression beyond its borders, Rice said in Washington, citing Moscow’s exploitation of its energy resources as a political weapon, its threats to target Poland and the Czech Republic with nuclear weapons, and its backing away from international arms-control treaties.

”Our strategic goal now is to make it clear to Russia’s leaders that their choices are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance,” she said. ”The picture emerging from this pattern of behaviour is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad.”

Moscow’s ”primary war aim” in Georgia was to overthrow Saakashvili’s government, an aim that would not succeed, she pledged.

The failure in Vienna on Thursday means that the European Union will play the main international role in Georgia.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has agreed with the Kremlin on the dispatch of at least 200 EU monitors to Georgia. They are to be operational by the end of the month, but will be concentrated in the Russia-proclaimed ”buffer zone” outside the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — which Moscow has also recognised as independent — and will not be allowed into the two regions that the Russians are garrisoning with almost 8 000 troops.

The Sarkozy peace plan has attracted muted criticism from Washington and Nato officials for being too lenient on the Russians. EU officials dismissed the jibes. ”Without the EU, you don’t get the Russians out [of Georgia]. There is no alternative. The Americans cannot be part of the solution here,” said an EU official.

The EU mission in Georgia is to be headed by French and German diplomats. France, Germany and Italy, which all tend towards a pro-Russia stance in the conflict, are contributing 140 of the 200 personnel. Britain is contributing 20 observers. — guardian.co.uk