Saakashvili warns West on Russia ties

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili urged the West Tuesday not to return to “business as usual” with Russia without holding it to account for its five-day war with his country in August.


He made the appeal in an article in the Wall Street Journal, timed to coincide with a NATO meeting in Brussels at which alliance foreign ministers will consider relaunching a high-level NATO-Russia dialogue, suspended after the war.


The meeting is expected to encourage reforms in Georgia and Ukraine and reconfirm commitment to their eventual membership, but again deny them a formal roadmap to joining — reflecting deep division among NATO’s 26 member states.


The European Union agreed last month to relaunch talks with Russia on a partnership pact, also suspended over the war.


Saakashvili repeated Georgia’s argument that it was responding to Russian aggression when it launched a military assault on its breakaway South Ossetia region, and said Moscow had still to meet the terms of their ceasefire by withdrawing to pre-war positions.


He warned of the “grave risks of returning to business as usual” without holding Russia to account. “If the international response is not firm, Moscow will make other moves to redraw the region’s map by intimidation or force,” Saakashvili wrote.


A cooperative Russia in the international community would contribute to the stability of Georgia, Saakashvili added.


However, “in the interim, we should make sure we do not sacrifice democracies like Georgia that are trying to make this critical part of the world more stable, secure and free.”


Some NATO members — notably France and Germany — are reluctant to further antagonize energy giant Russia by pressing ahead with membership for ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine regardless of stiff opposition from Moscow.


NATO membership has been the cornerstone of Saakashvili’s foreign policy since coming to power on the back of the 2003 “Rose Revolution.” But the West remains concerned about Georgia’s commitment to democracy.


Western governments condemned Russia’s intervention in its Caucasus neighbor as “disproportionate,” but also criticized Saakashvili’s decision to attack the rebel South Ossetian capital after months of skirmishes and accusations of Russian provocation.


Russia says it sent in tanks and troops and threw down buffer zones to defend civilians in the pro-Russian region, which threw off Georgia’s rule in the early 1990s. The West shied away from imposing sanctions on Russia, a vital energy supplier to Europe.


Russia has recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

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