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EU considers sanctions on Russia

A man raises a South Ossetia flag on the roof of a building in South Ossetia (27/08/08)
South Ossetians have celebrated Russia's recognition of independence

EU leaders are considering sanctions "and many other means" against Russia over the Georgia crisis, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said.

But he said he hoped the matter would "be solved by negotiation".

Moscow's military action in Georgia and its recognition of independence for rebel regions has angered the West.

At a key summit, Moscow's Asian allies have not followed suit in recognising independence but Russia's president says he has their "understanding".

Speaking at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), President Dmitry Medvedev said the group had a united position that would have "international resonance".

The SCO member states express their deep concern over the recent tensions surrounding the South Ossetia question
SCO statement

"I hope it will serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify this aggression," he said in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

However, the BBC's Humphrey Hawksley in Moscow says the summit's statement fell far short of unequivocal support for Russia.

The SCO, which includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, did express backing for Russia's "active role" in resolving the conflict in Georgia by "assisting in peace and co-operation in the region".

But its statement added: "The SCO member states express their deep concern over the recent tensions surrounding the South Ossetia question and call for the sides to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue."

Emergency summit

Earlier this month Georgia tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia by force after a series of clashes.

Russian forces subsequently launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia and an EU-brokered ceasefire.

SOUTH OSSETIA & ABKHAZIA
BBC map
South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000 (before recent conflict)
Capital: Tskhinvali
President: Eduard Kokoity
Abkhazia
Population: About 250,000 (2003)
Capital: Sukhumi
President: Sergei Bagapsh

France has called an emergency EU summit on Monday to reassess relations with Russia after Moscow's refusal to pull back all its troops from Georgia in line with the truce agreement.

Mr Kouchner said: "Sanctions are being considered, and many other means."

He added: "We are trying to elaborate a strong text that will show our determination not to accept [what is happening in Georgia]."

In a later statement, Mr Kouchner stressed France had made no proposals for sanctions itself but, as current president of the EU, would aim to get consensus among all 27 countries of the bloc if sanctions were envisaged.

Russia's foreign minister described talk of sanctions, which correspondents say Mr Kouchner ruled out earlier this week, as an emotional response that demonstrated Western confusion over the situation.

Sergei Lavrov said such talk was the working of "a sick imagination".

Mr Kouchner later responded by saying: "I'm not sick in the head. The Russians are a bit nervous, that's all."

New Cold War?

Meanwhile, Georgia's foreign minister said the "ethnic cleansing" of Georgians from South Ossetia was nearly complete - but did not specify who was carrying it out.

Addressing the European security organisation, the OSCE, in Vienna, Eka Tkeshelashvili said Georgians had been removed from their homes across the disputed territory.

President Dmitry Medvedev
President Medvedev says he has the support of his Asian allies

Earlier, seven of the world's leading industrialised nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and UK - said Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia violated Georgia's integrity and sovereignty.

The group also said it deplored Russia's "excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia".

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Western countries should re-examine their relations with Russia and warned Russia not to start a new Cold War.

Russia said it was the last country that wanted a new Cold War.

President Medvedev said he was obliged to recognise the independence of the two regions after the "genocide" started by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in South Ossetia in August.

However amid the rising tension, Russia has announced it has successfully tested its long-range Topol ballistic missile from a launch site in Kamchatka in the far east of the country.

Russia says the rocket is capable of penetrating the proposed US missile defence shield - another source of uneasiness between the two sides.


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