Russia Says US May Have Sent Weapons to Georgia

By: AP
By: AP
Russia warned the West on Monday against supporting Georgia

Russains soldiers sit a top of an APC near village Khurvaleti, 60 km northwest of Tbilisi, Friday, Aug. 22, 2008 as the Russian convoy moved north, in the direction of South Ossetia. A top Russian general said earlier it could be 10 days before the bulk of the troops is gone, and the mixed signals from Moscow left Georgians guessing about Russia's intentions nearly a week after a cease-fire deal. ( AP Photo /Sergei Grits)

Russia warned the West on Monday against supporting Georgia's leadership, suggesting that the United States carried weapons as well as aid to the ex-Soviet republic and calling for an arms embargo until the Georgian government falls.

The remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his spokesman came as European Union leaders delicately approached their relations with Russia, weighing how to punish Moscow for its invasion of Georgia without isolating the continent's major energy supplier.

The latest Russian rhetoric was likely to anger the United States and Europe and enrage Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has said Russia's goal all along has been to remove him from power.

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

At the EU emergency summit talks, leader debated a draft statement condemning Russia for putting relations with the EU "at a crossroads" and urging it "not to isolate" itself from Europe.

It called Russia's invasion of Georgia unacceptable and said the EU is ready to bolster ties with Georgia. There was, however, no mention of sanctions against Russia or of sending EU soldiers to Georgia.

A copy of the draft statement was obtained by The Associated Press.

Hours after Lavrov's comments, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry suggested U.S. ships that carried humanitarian aid to Georgia's Black Sea coast following last month's war may also have 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 may also have included "military components that will be used for the rearmament" of Georgia's military. He provided no evidence, but said such suspicions were a reason for Russia's call for an arms embargo.

Lavrov reserved particular criticism for the United States, which has trained Georgian troops, saying such aid had failed to give Washington sufficient leverage to restrain the Georgian government. Instead, he said, "It encouraged the irresponsible and unpredictable regime in its gambles."

Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon had immediate comment.

Human Rights Watch said Monday that Georgia - as well as Russia - dropped cluster bombs during the conflict. The rights group said Georgia's government has admitted it, while Russia continues with denials.

"These indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law," said Bonnie Docherty, arms division researcher at the New York-based body, who said the casualty toll in only four Georgia villages from cluster bombs and their leftover duds was 14 dead and dozens wounded.

The revelation could provide fuel for Russia, which has traded allegations with Georgia over controversial weapon usage, human rights violations and disinformation.

Huge crowds of Georgians surged into the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, 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.

Several hundred people marched from Gori to the Russian checkpoint at Karaleti, about four miles north, where soldiers watched impassively but a tank turret swiveled ominously from behind an earthen fortification.

No figures for total turnout nationwide were immediately available, but the television station Rustavi-2 said more than 1 million people participated in the demonstrations that also included the cities of Kutaisi and Zugdidi.

The crowd that jammed Tbilisi's main avenue alone appeared to have at least 100,000 people. The Tbilisi demonstration started with people holding hands to form "human chains" in an echo of the so-called Baltic Chain of 1989 in which residents of then-Soviet Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia stretched the length of their homelands to protest Soviet occupation.

A 60-year-old demonstrator, Tengiz Kuparadze, said he was in Lithuania for that event.

"Now, Lithuania has become free; it is a member of the European Union and reliably protected against Russia. Georgia will fight for this, and will win," he said.

On arrival at the EU summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU must stress the importance of "the territorial integrity of Georgia" but that the lines of communication with Moscow "should not be cut off."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the "27 members of the European Union are totally united in condemning the aggression of the Russian Government."

"While we do want good relations with Russia, I think it is pretty clear from what has happened over these last few weeks it cannot be business as usual. Indeed it will not be business as usual until things improve."

Russia supplies the EU with a third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas - a dependence the European Commission says will rise significantly in the future.

Germany relies on Russia for 34 percent of its oil imports and 36 percent of its natural gas consumption. Slovakia, Finland and Bulgaria depend on Russia for more than 90 percent of the gas that heats homes, cooks meals and powers factories.

The Europeans appeared to focus more on bolstering Georgia. The draft statement called for a free trade pact with Georgia, visa-free travel and reconstruction aid.

It said a "peaceful and lasting" solution to the conflict in Georgia must be based on respect for the country's sovereignty and borders.

"Each state in Europe has a right to determine freely its foreign policy and its alliances" - an apparent reference to Moscow's fierce opposition to Georgia's bid to join NATO.

On Aug. 7, Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia, hoping to retake the province, which broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed into Georgia. Both sides signed a cease-fire deal in mid-August, but Russia has ignored its requirement for all forces to return to prewar positions.

Moscow has insisted the cease-fire accord lets it run checkpoints in security zones of up to 4 miles into Georgian territory.

Possible EU actions against Russia include a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi - a Russian city near the Georgian border - or holding off on talks for a broader economic partnership with Moscow.

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