Moscow has issued an extraordinary warning to the West that military assistance to Georgia for use against South Ossetia or Abkhazia would be viewed as a “declaration of war” by Russia.
The extreme rhetoric from the Kremlin’s envoy to NATO came as President Dmitry Medvedev stressed he will make a military response to US missile defence installations in eastern Europe, sending new shudders across countries whose people were once blighted by the Iron Curtain.
And Moscow also emphasised it was closely monitoring what it claims is a build-up of NATO firepower in the Black Sea.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) meets with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – the ‘real architect’ of the Georgia conflict – and the Security Council (unseen) in Sochi yesterday
The incendiary warning on Western military involvement in Georgia – where NATO nations have long played a role in training and equipping the small state – came in an interview with Dmitry Rogozin, a former nationalist politician who is now ambassador to the North Atlantic Alliance.
“If NATO suddenly takes military actions against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, acting solely in support of Tbilisi, this will mean a declaration of war on Russia,” he stated.
Yesterday likened the current world crisis to the fevered atmosphere before the start of the First World War.
Rogozin said he did not believe the crisis would descend to war between the West and Russia.
But his use of such intemperate language will be seen as dowsing a fire with petrol.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas at Georgia’s Black Sea port of Batumi today, carrying what the U.S. says is humanitarian aid
Top military figure Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies in Moscow, alleged that the US and NATO had been arming Georgia as a dress rehearsal for a future military operation in Iran.
“We are close to a serious conflict – U.S. and NATO preparations on a strategic scale are ongoing. In the operation the West conducted on Georgian soil against Russia – South Ossetians were the victims or hostages of it – we can see a rehearsal for an attack on Iran.”
He claimed Washington was fine tuning a new type of warfare and that the threat of an attack on Iran was growing by the day bringing “chaos and instability” in its wake.
With the real architect of the worsening Georgian conflict – prime minister Vladimir Putin – remaining in the background, Medvedev followed up on Rogozin’s broadside with a threat to use the Russian military machine to respond to the deployment of the American anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech republic.
Poland agreed this month to place ten interceptor missiles on its territory, and Moscow has already hinted it would become a nuclear target for Russia in the event of conflict.
A South Ossetian separatist fighter prepares to fire his weapon as another raises the South Ossetian and Russian flags, in Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia’s separatist-controlled territory of South Ossetia yesterday
“These missiles are close to our borders and constitute a threat to us,” Medvedev told Al-Jazeera television. “This will create additional tension and we will have to respond to it in some way, naturally using military means.”
The Russian president said that offering NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, two former Soviet republics, would only aggravate the situation.
Moscow has consistently expressed its opposition to the U.S. missile shield, saying it threatens its national security.
The U.S. claims the shield is designed to thwart missile attacks by what it calls “rogue states,” including Iran.
Meanwhile, Russia – seen by the West as flouting international law – today demanded NATO abide by an obscure agreement signed before the Second World War limiting its warships in the Black Sea.
Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin
“In light of the build-up of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea, our fleet has also taken on the task of monitoring their activities,” said hawkish deputy head of Russia’s general staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn.
The Montreux Convention, as it is called, sets a weight restriction of 45,000 tonnes on the number of warships that countries outside the Black Sea region can deploy in the basin.
“Can NATO indefinitely build up its forces and means there? It turns out it cannot,” said Nogovitsyn.
NATO has said it is undertaking pre-arranged exercises in the Black Sea involving US, German, Spanish and Polish ships. Two other US warships sailed to Georgian waters with humanitarian aid.
Georgia is poised to sever diplomatic relations with Russia, or reduce them to a bare minimum.
“We will drastically cut our diplomatic ties with Russia,” said a top official.
President Mikhail Saakashvili said he was frightened to leave Georgia to attend the EU summit on the crisis.
“If I leave Georgia, the Russians will close our airspace and prevent me from returning home,” he said.
Russia sought Chinese backing for its action – but the Communist regime in Beijing appeared reluctant to offer support, instead issuing a statement saying it was “concerned” about recent developments.
NATO called for Russia to reverse its decision on recognition for the two enclaves, both Georgian under international law.
But the new ‘president’ of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyty, called for Russian military bases on his territory.
French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner warned today that an marauding Russian bear could trample over other ex-Soviet states.
“That is very dangerous,” he said, pointing at Ukraine and Moldova.
Last updated at 16:47pm on 27.08.08
Source: The Evening Standard