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West warns Russia to 'change course'

Seeks to keep key nuclear pact in works; Moscow faults NATO growth

US Captain John Moore greeted Georgians upon the arrival of US Coast Guard Cutter Dallas to Georgia's port of Batumi yesterday. The ship unloaded aid for thousands displaced by fighting that erupted over the breakaway South Ossetia region. US Captain John Moore greeted Georgians upon the arrival of US Coast Guard Cutter Dallas to Georgia's port of Batumi yesterday. The ship unloaded aid for thousands displaced by fighting that erupted over the breakaway South Ossetia region. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)
By Jim Heintz
Associated Press / August 28, 2008
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TBILISI, Georgia - Western leaders warned Russia yesterday to "change course," hoping to keep a conflict that already threatens a key nuclear pact from blossoming into a new Cold War.

Moscow said it was NATO expansion and Western support for Georgia that was causing the new East-West divisions, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at the United States for using military ships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.

Meanwhile, Georgia slashed its embassy staff in Moscow to protest Russia's recognition of the two separatist enclaves that were the flashpoint for the five-day war between the two nations earlier this month.

The tensions have spread to the Black Sea, which Russia shares unhappily with three nations that belong to NATO and two others that desperately want to, Ukraine and Georgia. Some Ukrainians fear Moscow might set its sights on their nation next.

In moves evocative of Cold War cat-and-mouse games, a US military ship carrying humanitarian aid docked at a southern Georgian port, and Russia sent a missile cruiser and two other ships to a port farther north in a show of force.

The maneuvering occurred a day after President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia had said his nation was "not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War." For the two superpowers of the first Cold War, the United States and Russia, repercussions from this new conflict could be widespread.

Russia's agriculture minister said Moscow could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, hitting American producers hard and thereby raising prices for American shoppers.

And a key civil nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington appears likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest.

On the diplomatic front, the West's denunciations of Russia grew louder.

Britain's top diplomat equated Moscow's offensive in Georgia with the Soviet tanks that invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring democratic reforms in 1968, and demanded Russia "change course."

"The sight of Russian tanks in a neighboring country on the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

Western leaders have accused Russia of using inappropriate force when it sent tanks and troops into Georgia earlier this month. The Russian move followed a Georgian crackdown on the pro-Russian South Ossetia.

Many of the Russian forces that drove deep into Georgia after fighting broke out Aug. 7 have pulled back, but hundreds are estimated to still be manning checkpoints that Russia calls "security zones" inside Georgia proper.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany pressed Medvedev in a phone call to immediately fulfill the EU-brokered cease-fire by pulling all troops out of Georgia.

The Kremlin rejected Western criticism, and Tuesday even suggested the conflict could spread. It starkly warned another former Soviet republic, tiny Moldova, that aggression against a breakaway region there could provoke a military response.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France accused Russia of trying to redraw the borders of Georgia. His foreign minister went further, suggesting Russia had engaged in "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia, one of the two Georgian rebel territories.

And the seven nations that along with Russia make up the G-8 issued a statement that underlined Russia's growing estrangement from the West.

The seven - United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Italy - said Russia's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries violated Georgia's territorial integrity.

Two weeks ago, officials had told the Associated Press that the G-7 was weighing whether to effectively disband what is known as the G-8 by throwing Moscow out.

Georgia's prime minister put damage from the Russian war at about $1 billion but said it did not fundamentally undermine the Georgian economy. Georgia, which has a national budget of about $3 billion, hopes for substantial Western aid to recover.

The United Nations has estimated nearly 160,000 people had to flee their homes, but hundreds have returned to Georgian cities like Gori in the past week.

In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, boxes of aid were sorted, stacked, and loaded onto trucks yesterday for some of the tens of thousands of people still displaced by the fighting. Some boxes were stamped "USAID - from the American People."

In the Black Sea, the US Coast Guard cutter Dallas, carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid, docked in Batumi. The missile destroyer USS McFaul was there earlier this week delivering aid, and the United States planned to leave it in the Black Sea for now.

A spokesman for Putin, quoted by Interfax news agency, observed: "Military ships are hardly a common way to deliver such aid."

The United States has used military ships to deliver humanitarian aid before, including after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

The US Embassy in Georgia had earlier said the Dallas was headed to the port city of Poti but then retracted the statement. A Georgian official said the port in Poti could have been mined by Russian forces.

Poti's port reportedly suffered heavy damage from the Russian military. In addition, Russian troops have established checkpoints on the northern approach to the city, and a US ship docking there could have been seen as a direct challenge.

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