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Echoes of the Cold War

DW staff (nda/sms)August 20, 2008

Russia continued its occupation of two enclaves in Georgia as Kremlin officials said soldiers would withdrawal by Friday. Tension over the war in the Caucasus has aggravated the West's relations with Moscow.

Communication has been suspended between NATO and Moscow as the crisis deepensImage: AP / PD / DW

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Aug. 19, that all but 500 Russian troops would leave Georgia by Friday. He had earlier promised the troop pullback would begin on Monday.

Moscow and Western leaders clashed at the United Nations on Tuesday when Russia, which holds a veto power in the Security Council, refused to support a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of its troops.

The draft resolution, presented to the Council by France, reaffirmed "the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders."

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said it would be "a waste of time" to put the resolution to a vote.

Cold War frame of mind

The inside of the UN Security Council
A vote on the French resolution never came before the Security CouncilImage: AP

Tension between Moscow and Western capitals grew earlier in the day at a NATO summit where the alliance's foreign minister clashed with Russia over the recent conflict in would-be NATO member Georgia. Russia also accused NATO of Cold War thinking.

NATO "is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe ... It's time for the Russian president to keep his word to withdraw back to the status quo ante of August 6-7," before fighting in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia broke out, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after a meeting with NATO counterparts on Tuesday.

"What is a promise worth when it is not fulfilled?" NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer added, again referring to an EU-brokered cease-fire deal signed by Dmitry Medvedev on Aug. 12. NATO officials say Russia is breaking the deal.

At the emergency meeting, the foreign ministers of NATO's 26 member states agreed not to hold any more sessions of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), which is the main platform for NATO-Russia dialogue, until Russian troops pull out of Georgia, and decided to create a new commission for dialogue with membership hopeful Georgia.

"Russian military action has been disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role, as well as incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution," a joint statement after the meeting said. "We cannot continue with business as usual."

Accusations fly

Georgian soldiers sit atop a tank as it moves along a street in Gori, Georgia, just outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia
Russia accusses the US of aiding Georgia's campaignImage: AP

But Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, hit back strongly, accusing the US of helping Georgia plan its attack on South Ossetia, de Hoop Scheffer of acting as a US pawn and NATO as a whole of keeping a Cold War mentality.

"Today NATO demonstrated that it originated in and it is still from the time of the Cold War, it doesn't matter what their propaganda says," he said.

"(Georgian President Mikhail) Saakashvili got the right to start a war against the small people of South Ossetia just because Georgia had NATO aspirations," he added, accusing NATO of "turning a blind eye" to the destruction wrought by Georgian forces on civilians in the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

"The US was greatly involved in the preparation of this Georgian aggression ... and here in Brussels they were afraid to engage in a frank discussion with Russia in the presence of their European allies," he said.

Russia cannot cooperate with NATO if it insists on "protecting criminals," Rogozin said.

"If NATO wants to cooperate with criminals, we can't stop them, but we cannot cooperate anymore with an organization which works with criminals," said Rogozin, who compared Saakashvili to Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

NATO membership remains a hot topic

In April, NATO leaders agreed that Georgia and Ukraine should join the alliance at an unspecified future point. The alliance's foreign ministers are set to discuss the issue further in December.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev heads a security council meeting at the presidential residence in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi
Medvedev won't tolerate Georgia as a NATO memberImage: AP

But immediately after the decision, which Russia criticized as a threat to its security, tensions between Georgia and its breakaway provinces flared dramatically. The tensions culminated in a Georgian attack on South Ossetia on Aug. 7 and a Russian military response which pushed well into Georgian territory.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy to bring about a cease-fire, said Tuesday that "if the European Union had not moved, Tbilisi would have been captured."

Rogozin rejected that claim, saying that "Russia's actions were never intended to destroy, occupy or force regime change in Georgia."

Communication cut off by both sides

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer addresses the media at NATO Headquarters
De Hoop Scheffer put NATO talks with Russia on holdImage: AP

While de Hoop Scheffer said NATO would not call any further NRC meetings until Russia pulls its troops out of Georgia, Rogozin retorted that it would be up to NATO to return to talks.

"We will keep our very good bilateral contacts (with NATO members) ... and hopefully there will be a better time sooner or later when NATO understands that the world is very vulnerable and that bloc approaches are no longer possible," he said.

He also insisted that the row was not about to plumb the depths it saw during the Cold War.

"It's clear (Russia's relationship with NATO) won't stay as it was before, there will be a lot of changes in the volume, quality and time-frame of our meetings," he said. "This situation will change but there will be no Cold War."