/ 20 September 2008

Russia says Nato provoked Georgia conflict

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday accused Nato of provoking the conflict with Georgia but he said strains with the West did not mean Russia planned to isolate itself behind a new Iron Curtain.

Medvedev was speaking a day after United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia had taken a ”dark turn” and urged the West to stand up to what she called its bullying tactics.

”We are in effect being pushed down a path that is founded not on fully-fledged, civilised partnership with other countries, but on autonomous development, behind thick walls, behind an Iron Curtain,” Medvedev told a gathering of civil society groups in the Kremlin.

”That is not our path. For us there is no sense going back to the past. We have made our choice.”

He said the Nato alliance’s role in the Georgia conflict showed it was unable to provide security in Europe, underlining the need for a new security mechanism.

”What did Nato secure, what did Nato ensure? Nato only provoked the conflict, and not more than that,” he said.

Responding to Medvedev’s remarks, Nato spokesperson James Appathurai said there was nothing provocative in promoting democratic and economic reform and supporting Georgia’s aspirations to move closer to the West.

Bids affected
Russia launched a counterattack by land, sea and air last month after Georgian forces tried to retake the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia. Western states condemned Russia’s actions as disproportionate.

Russian officials say Nato’s agreement to take in Georgia as a member emboldened Georgia to attack South Ossetia. The Kremlin says Western states also played a role by arming Georgia’s military.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at an event in Britain on Friday, said Russia’s action in Georgia would cost Moscow far more in the long term than any short-term gains it achieved.

Europe and Washington would take decisions in coming months that could affect Russian bids for membership of the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gates said.

”Russia’s recent behaviour raises questions about how successful we can be in trying to pursue a constructive relationship,” he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday accused Rice of distorting the events which lead to the war.

”We in Russia are not going to indulge too much in rhetoric or be dragged into a confrontation — either rhetorical or anything else. We look to the future and we expect the American side to do the same,” it said in a statement.

Medvedev’s pledge that Russia will not retreat into authoritarianism appeared aimed, in part, at rebuilding battered confidence on financial markets.

Russian stocks this week suffered their worst losses in a decade, though they recovered strongly on Friday after the state made available a $130-billion emergency support package.

The fall was caused by a combination of global financial turmoil, falling oil prices and market worries that the rift with the West over Georgia had driven up political risk. – Reuters