Pressure mounts ahead of EU’s Georgia-Russia summit

Georgia’s president has been visiting the Black Sea port of Poti – inspecting the damage caused during the conflict with Russia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and maintaining the pressure ahead of Monday’s European Union summit on the situation.

Locals greeted Mikheil Saakashvili warmly, and cheered as he again branded Russian soldiers manning checkpoints around the port as “occupiers”. But it is unlikely the EU will adopt sanctions in a bid to force Moscow to withdraw those troops.

France currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday repeated Paris does not back sanctions. “France wants to maintain dialogue,” he said. “The solution would have to be a political one, not a military one.”

Russia’s latest salvo in the war of words came from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who again hinted the US might have been involved in provoking the crisis – something Washington has denied.

Putin admitted Moscow was not indifferent to the upcoming EU summit, and would be watching closely. But he said he hoped “good sense would prevail”. “We hope there’ll be a real, objective analysis of what really happened in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” he added.

Moscow also announced it would withdraw personnel from its consulate in Tbilisi after Georgia’s parliament voted unanimously to break off diplomatic ties with Russia. Georgia’s diplomats in Moscow are reportedly heading home today.

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