Russia warns that it will use its might
EU says it won't impose sanctions
MOSCOW - President Dmitry Medvedev again put the West on notice that Moscow will exert its military and economic might with new determination, saying yesterday that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with" after its war with Georgia.
With a US Navy ship unloading aid off Georgia's Black Sea coast within shooting distance of Russian troops, Medvedev's comments were another reminder that the Kremlin views last month's war as the start of a new era in Russian assertiveness.
In France, the European Union's 27 foreign ministers were reluctant to provoke Moscow, with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France saying the EU did not plan to impose sanctions against Russia.
"Russia must remain a partner, it's our neighbor, it's a large country, and there is no question to go back to a Cold War situation, that would be a big mistake," Kouchner said.
In the weeks since Russian forces routed the Georgian Army and seized the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, Russian officials have used bellicose language toward the West. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president and former KGB chief, has suggested the United States was to blame for the war for helping the Georgian military rebuild.
At a meeting yesterday of the State Council, Medvedev said the world had changed since the beginning of fighting in Georgia last month. "We have reached a moment of truth. It became a different world after Aug. 8," he said.
"Russia will never allow anyone to infringe upon the lives and dignity of its citizens. Russia is a nation to be reckoned with from now on," Medvedev told the council, a government consultative body of largely regional governors.
Medvedev criticized the United States and other Western nations, though not by name, for challenging Russia's intervention.
"Millions of people supported us, but we've heard no words of support and understanding from those who in the same circumstances pontificate about free elections and national dignity, and the need to use force to punish an aggressor," he said.
The United States has moved to counter Russia, both lambasting Moscow for what it called a disproportionate military response and providing humanitarian and economic aid to Georgia.
In Italy yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney blasted Russian actions in the war as an "affront to civilized standards" and said Moscow has given "no satisfactory justification" for invading Georgia.
Cheney spoke at an economic conference in Cernobbio, Italy, following visits to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine, where he pledged US backing for the former Soviet states. "This chain of aggressive moves and diplomatic reversals has only intensified the concern that many have about Russia's larger objectives," he said.
Cheney called on Western nations to stand united against any effort by Moscow to use its dominance as an energy supplier to intimidate its neighbors. He also said the expansion of NATO would continue despite Moscow's opposition.
US warships have delivered much of the aid to Georgia, and Russian officials have questioned whether the aid is a cover for weapons shipments.
"Unfortunately, the situation is like this . . . the rearming of the Georgian regime, including under the flag of humanitarian aid, is continuing," Medvedev said.
"It's interesting how they would feel if we were to use our navy to send humanitarian aid to the countries of the Caribbean Sea, which recently suffered from the well-known, destructive hurricane," he added.
At Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti, Russian forces watched closely yesterday as the US naval ship USS Mount Whitney delivered 17 tons of aid for Georgians displaced by the fighting.
US naval officers said a Russian warship had trailed the Mount Whitney - the flagship of the US Navy's Mediterranean fleet - across the Black Sea. Russian forces onshore were also scrutinizing the ship from a position just 3 miles away from its anchorage off Poti.
"They're clearly watching us very, very closely, and I think they'll be very happy when we leave," said Captain Owen Honors, the ship's commanding officer.