SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev convened security chiefs on Tuesday to consider a plea from parliament to recognize two separatist regions of Georgia as independent, a move Washington says would be unacceptable.
The meeting came amid signs Moscow was preparing for a showdown with the West over its action in Georgia.
Georgia and Russia fought a brief war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia earlier this month after Georgia sent in troops to try to retake the province by force. Russia responded with a massive counter-attack by land, sea and air.
Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, compared the position to the eve of World War One, saying a new freeze in relations was inevitable.
“The current atmosphere reminds me of the situation in Europe in 1914 … when because of one terrorist leading world powers clashed,” Rogozin told the RBK Daily business newspaper.
“I hope (Georgian President) Mikheil Saakashvili will not go down in history as a new Gavrilo Princip,” Rogozin said, referring to the man who in August 1914 killed Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, triggering the world war.
The Kremlin gave no details of the security council meeting but a government source said it would start at about 1 p.m. (5 a.m. EDT) in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was to attend.
“ILLUSION OF PARTNERSHIP”
Medvedev on Monday said Russia was ready for whatever action NATO might take, up to and including suspending all cooperation.
“We want our relations to be fully fledged and those of partners, but we do not want an illusion of partnership,” the president said at the start of a meeting with Rogozin.
“Naturally we are not happy with being surrounded by military bases, and being told: ‘Do not worry, everything’s fine'”.
The influential daily Kommersant ran a front-page headline reading “Russia’s leaders quarrel with the West” above a photo of Medvedev taking aim with a Kalashnikov gun during a visit to a weapons factory earlier this year.
In a further hint of trouble ahead, Putin told a cabinet meeting that Russia should reconsider some of the commitments it made during talks on its entry to the World Trade Organization.
Both houses of Russia’s parliament unanimously adopted resolutions on Monday urging Medvedev to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and the second separatist region of Abkhazia.
The decisions triggered celebrations in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, but the Kremlin leader has yet to respond.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he was deeply concerned by the parliamentary votes. He urged Russia not to recognize the regions, which rebelled against Georgian rule after the collapse of the Soviet Union and have since run their own affairs without international recognition.
Senior officials of the world’s seven leading industrial nations spoke on Monday by telephone and expressed alarm at reports Russia might recognize the rebel areas, the U.S. State Department said.
Russia has pulled back the bulk of its forces from Georgia proper but has angered the West by keeping some troops in a large buffer zone around the two rebel regions, saying they are required as peacekeepers to guarantee security.
The West says the size of the buffer zones violates the terms of a French-brokered ceasefire which stopped the fighting and has called on Russia to withdraw from them without delay.
Georgian and Russian forces were locked in a standoff on Tuesday in the village of Mosabruni near the edge of South Ossetia, about 50 km (30 miles) northwest of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
“We are afraid our children will be killed,” ethnic Georgian villager Iza Mikhanishvili, 31, told a reporter.
“There are Georgian forces on one side, Ossetians on the other. Yes, they are peacekeepers, but we are afraid every single night that something will happen. The only thing we want is peace. I don’t care who we are with, Russia or Georgia.”
The United States is Tbilisi’s closest big-power ally and on Tuesday U.S. navy vessels were bound for Georgia to show support and bring relief supplies — a deployment that has irked Moscow.
The U.S. embassy in Georgia said two warships would deliver relief supplies to the port of Poti on Wednesday. Russian troops have been patrolling in the port in recent days.
Russia media reported that the guided missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea fleet, put to sea again from its Crimean base for what the navy described as a routine training exercise to test weapons and onboard systems.
The White House announced that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, a long-time critic of Russia, would visit Georgia early next month as part of a trip to show support for former Soviet states now seeking closer links with the West