Cold War tension rises as Putin talks of Black Sea confrontation


Russia has criticised the US for using naval ships to deliver aid to Georgia

A new Cold War between Russia and the West grew steadily closer yesterday after the Kremlin gave a warning about “direct confrontation” between American and Russian warships in the Black Sea.

Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, declared that Russia was taking “measures of precaution” against American and Nato naval ships. “Let’s hope we do not see any direct confrontation in that,” he said.

Any attempt by countries in the West to isolate Russia would “definitely harm the economic interests of those states”, he said.

A day after the Kremlin said that it was ready to fight a new Cold War, both sides gave the impression that they were preparing for a protracted stand-off. Foreign ministers of the G7 leading industrialised nations condemned Russia’s excessive use of force and the decision to recognise the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while the US and Russia shelved a key nuclear agreement that would have given the Americans access to Russian nuclear technologies and Russia help from the US in establishing an international nuclear fuel storage facility for spent fuel.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, also flew to Ukraine to assemble the “widest possible coalition against Russian aggression”, while Georgia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia, recalling all but two of its diplomats from Moscow in protest at the continuing occupation of its country.

Russia criticised the US for using naval ships to deliver aid to Georgia. The US Coast Guard cutter Dallas delivered supplies to the Georgian port of Batumi yesterday, three days after the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul docked in the port. The US sailors were greeted with chants of “USA! USA!”

By choosing Batumi, the US opted for a less confrontational move than docking at Poti, another Georgian port where Russian troops are dug in. The US may have also suspected that the Russians had mined the harbour at Poti, possibly one of the precautionary measures referred to by Mr Putin’s spokesman.

General Anatoli Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, accused Nato of “ratcheting up tension” in the Black Sea. Mr Peskov said: “It’s not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aid using battleships.”

The Russian rhetoric was matched in the US by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, who will visit Georgia next week. He called the Russian occupation of Georgia an unjustified assault, and pledged to ensure the country’s territorial integrity.

The G7 – Britain, the US, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan – said in a statement released by the US State Department: “We deplore Russia’s excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia.”

For now, US help has been confined to delivering aid to Georgia by sea and air, but with Russian troops and tanks still occupying parts of Georgia, US military planners are now openly considering how to rearm Georgia’s forces, which fought as allies of the US in Iraq. “Down the road we will be looking at what may be required to rebuild the Georgian military \ right now the mission of the United States military is to provide humanitarian assistance,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

A former British ambassador to Tbilisi said that Nato might have to send troops to the region. Donald McLaren, who was Ambassador to Georgia from 2004 to July last year and is now retired, told the Today programme on Radio 4: “I think we shouldn’t be too complacent or too scared in a situation like this.”

He suggested that a peacekeeping force made up of troops from the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia should be sent to Georgia to replace the Russian units. If Moscow rejected such a proposal, he said, Nato had only two choices: “To give up and surrender and say to the Russians, ‘It’s your backyard, you’ve won’, or to put men on the ground to protect Georgia’s sovereignty and the east-west oil and gas pipeline from the Caspian and Central Asia.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that there was no prospect of troops being deployed to Georgia.

Nato diplomatic sources said that no one within the alliance was speaking about sending troops. “We have no mandate to act in the Caucasus,” a source said. Even the European Union, which is to hold a summit next month, has downgraded its most likely response to the Russian military presence in Georgia from deploying peacekeepers to sending observers.

Masha Lipman, of the Moscow centre of the Carnegie Endowment, told Today that Russia was in a belligerent mood and that if the West sent a force into Georgia, the situation would escalate.

The Ministry of Defence has decided to postpone a military exercise in Georgia involving the Territorial Army and the Georgian Army. The exercise, planned for next month, was to help the Georgians with peacekeeping. The MoD said that the Georgian Defence Ministry had requested the delay because of the current situation.

Countdown to the crisis

August 7 Georgia sends troops into breakaway region of South Ossetia

August 8 President Saakashvili of Georgia says that most of South Ossetia has been “liberated”. Russia sends in troops and promises to defend residents with Russian passports

August 12 President Medvedev of Russia says that he has decided to stop military action against Georgia. President Sarkozy of France begins negotiations on a peace agreement

August 15 Georgia signs French-brokered agreement

August 16 Mr Medvedev signs peace agreement, but Russian troops advance through Georgia to the capital Tbilisi

August 18 Russia announces withdrawal from Georgia but Tbilisi accuses Moscow of stalling and not observing ceasefire

August 20 Abkhazia, another breakaway region, votes to ask Russia to recognise its independence. Russia freezes relations with Nato

August 26 Russia formally recognises South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Mr Medvedev says: “We are not afraid of . . . a Cold War”

August 27 David Miliband, right, and Mr Sarkozy call on Russia to avoid a new Cold War

Sources: agencies

August 28, 2008
Michael Evans, Defence Editor

Source: The Times

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