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Russia blames West, NATO for tensions

TBILISI, Georgia — Russia was warned on Wednesday to "change course," hoping to keep a conflict that already threatens a key nuclear pact and could even raise U.S. chicken prices from blossoming into a new Cold War.

Moscow said it was NATO expansion and Western support for Georgia that was causing the new East-West divisions, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at the United States for using military ships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.

Meanwhile, Georgia slashed its embassy staff in Moscow to protest Russia's recognition of the two separatist enclaves that were the flashpoint for the five-day war earlier this month.

The tensions have spread to the Black Sea, which Russia shares unhappily with three nations that belong to NATO and two others that desperately want to, Ukraine and Georgia. Some Ukrainians fear Moscow might set its sights on their nation next.

Russian commanders said Wednesday they were growing alarmed at the number of NATO warships sailing into the Black Sea, conceding that NATO vessels now outnumbered the ships in their fleet anchored off the western coast of Georgia.

As attention turned to the balance of naval power in the sea, the leader of the separatist region of Abkhazia said he would invite Russia to establish a naval base at his territory's deep water port of Sukhumi.

And in a move certain to anger Russia, Ukraine's president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, said he would open negotiations with authorities in Moscow to raise the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, which is in Ukraine's predominantly Russian province of Crimea. The United States is pursuing a delicate policy of delivering humanitarian aid on military transport planes and ships, to illustrate to the Russians they do not fully control Georgia's airspace or coastline.

The policy has left American and Russian naval vessels maneuvering in close proximity off the western coast of Georgia, with the Americans concentrated near the southern port of Batumi and the Russians around the central port of Poti. It has also left the Kremlin deeply suspicious of American motives.

The maneuvering came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said his nation was "not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War." For the United States and Russia, repercussions from this conflict could be widespread.

Russia's agriculture minister said Moscow could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, hitting American producers hard and thereby raising prices for American shoppers. And a key civil nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington appears likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest.

On the diplomatic front, the West's denunciations of Russia grew louder. Britain's top diplomat equated Moscow's offensive in Georgia with the Soviet tanks that invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 and demanded that Russia "change course."

"The sight of Russian tanks in a neighboring country on the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

Russia blames West, NATO for tensions 08/27/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:40pm]

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