Friday, August 29, 2008

Putin assails US over Georgia conflict

by Carole Landry
August 28, 2008

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Washington on Thursday of manufacturing the Georgia conflict as tensions mounted with the United States threatening to scrap a nuclear deal in protest at Moscow's actions.

Russia tested an inter-continental missile before Putin, the powerful former Kremlin leader who now heads the government, said the US administration had a hand in the five-day war between Russian and Georgian forces.

"The fact is that US citizens were indeed in the area in conflict during the hostilities. It should be admitted that they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders," Putin said in an interview with CNN.

He said he suspected that "someone in the US specially created this conflict" to "create an advantage" for a US presidential candidate.

His remarks drew a swift response from the White House which described them as "patently false."

Washington said it was considering scrapping a US-Russia civilian nuclear cooperation pact in response to Moscow's actions in Georgia and its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as separate states. France said the European Union could impose sanctions on Russia.

The missile test in northern Russia came barely a week after the United States completed an accord with Poland on basing an anti-missile shield in central Europe and as Russia accuses NATO of building up its navy vessels in the Black Sea.

A spokesman for Russia's strategic nuclear forces said the 6,000 kilometre (3,700 mile) test of the Topol RS-12M was successful. Russia has been developing the missile in response to US plans to develop its shield.

The announcement came as Russia complained about the number of NATO ships in the Black Sea and said it was taking "measures of precaution."

Russian television broadcast excerpts of the Putin interview to CNN.

"If my guess is right, then it raises the suspicion that someone in the US specially created this conflict to worsen the situation and create an advantage in the competitive struggle for one of the candidates for the post of president of the United States," he said.

The tight race to the November 4 vote in the United States pits Democrat Barack Obama against Republican John McCain, who has been hawkish in his public response to the Georgia conflict.

A White House spokeswoman said "those claims first and foremost are patently false, but it also sounds like his defense officials who said they believed this to be true are giving him really bad advice."

Asked whether Washington planned to go through with a recent accord allowing US and Russian companies to form joint ventures in the nuclear sector, the spokeswoman said: "I don't think there's anything to announce yet, but I know that that is under discussion."

The stand-off with the West has deepened since President Dmitry Medvedev's announcement that Russia recognised South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

Georgia's parliament called for the government to cut diplomatic ties with Moscow over Russia's "occupation of Georgian territory" in a resolution adopted unanimously in Tbilisi.

Later Thursday, Georgia called for an international investigation into the events that led to its conflict with Russia and allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

"It is time to establish the truth about the crimes committed before and during Russia's invasion of Georgia," the foreign ministry in Tbilisi said in a statement.

EU states are considering imposing sanctions on Russia at an emergency summit on the Georgian crisis on Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

"Sanctions are being considered, and many other means," said Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union presidency.

Russia claimed it had secured support from China and four other nations at a summit in Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital.

A statement released by the six nations at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit voiced support for Russia's "active role" in "assisting in peace and cooperation in the region".

However, the declaration also called for respect for "territorial integrity" without specifically naming Georgia.

A senior Russian general accused Georgia of redeploying forces near South Ossetia and said foreign powers were helping to rebuild the country's military capability.

"Georgia continues the redeployment of its forces in the direction of South Ossetia and the restoration of the combat capability of its troops," the deputy head of Russia's general staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said in a briefing.

The UN Security Council was to hold a formal meeting to discuss the conflict in Georgia on Thursday afternoon, though diplomats said there would be no decision made.

Moscow argues that it recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia to protect the local inhabitants after Russian forces poured into Georgia earlier this month to repel a Georgian attack on the latter region.

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