Russia warns against backing Georgian regime

Russia warned the West against supporting Georgia’s leadership, calling for an arms embargo against the ex-Soviet republic until a different government was in place.

Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks came hours before European Union leaders agreed to postpone talks with Russia on a wide-ranging political and economic agreement unless Russia pulled its troops back from positions in Georgia.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he planned to travel to Moscow on September 8 for talks with the Russian leadership.

There was no immediate response to the EU summit’s decisions from the Kremlin. The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian foreign ministry official as saying that the decision was a cause for regret.

Earlier yesterday, Russia warned the West against supporting Georgia’s leadership and called for an arms embargo until the Georgian government of Mikhail Saakashvili fell.

“If instead of choosing their national interests and the interests of the Georgian people, the US and its allies choose the Saakashvili regime, this will be a mistake of truly historic proportions,” Mr Lavrov said.

Shortly after, the spokesman for Mr Lavrov’s ministry suggested US ships that have carried humanitarian aid to Georgia’s Black Sea coast following last month’s war could have also delivered weapons.

Without naming a specific country, foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said there were “suppositions” that the cargo of military ships bringing aid to Georgia could have included “military components that will be used for the rearmament” of Georgia. He said such suspicions were behind Russia’s call for an arms embargo.

Neither the US State Department nor the Pentagon had immediate comment on the claim, which followed similar allegations by the Russian military.

Last week, Russia recognised South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent countries.

The US and Europe have accused Russia of using disproportionate force and of breaking the ceasefire. They have condemned Russia’s recognition of the separatist regions, saying Georgia’s borders must remain intact. Russia says it was provoked.

A New York-based human rights group said yesterday that Georgia and Russia both dropped cluster bombs in the war. The weapons are widely denounced for killing and injuring civilians.

Amid the continuing tensions, Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said that South Ossetian militias raided the village of Koda in the buffer zone yesterday, killing a woman and wounding two children. He would not give any further details and neither Russian nor separatist officials were available for comment last night.

Huge crowds of Georgians surged into the streets of the capital Tbilisi yesterday to demonstrate against Russia while others gathered at a Russian checkpoint where soldiers are guarding the “security zone” Moscow claimed for itself after last month’s war.

Large demonstrations also took place in Poti, the Black Sea port city where Russian forces have a checkpoint on the outskirts, and in Gori, which was bombed and then occupied by Russian forces.

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