BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will warn Russia on Monday that relations could suffer in future if Moscow does not uphold accords to end the Georgia conflict, according to a draft summit statement that shied away from sanctions.
The five-page text, obtained by Reuters as EU leaders began emergency talks in Brussels, strongly condemned Russia’s move to recognize the independence of the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and urged other countries not to do so.
But it made no reference to sanctions, with EU countries split on whether Russia should face punitive measures and some questioning whether the bloc can do anything to influence its largest energy supplier.
“The European Council is gravely concerned by the open conflict which has broken out in Georgia, by the resulting violence and by the disproportionate reaction of Russia.”
“(The review) may lead to decisions on the continuation of discussions on the future of relations between the Union and Russia in various areas,” the draft said.
Before the summit opened, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia had set a new standard for defending its national interests.
“Russia has returned to the world stage as a responsible state which can defend its citizens,” he declared, adding that the United States must “start adapting” to this reality.
Russia crushed Georgia in a short war last month after Tbilisi tried to recapture by force its rebel, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia.
Moscow said it intervened to prevent Georgian ‘genocide’ there. It drew Western condemnation by pushing far beyond the disputed area, bombing and deploying troops deep inside Georgia. The former Soviet republic is strategically important to the West because it hosts oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russia.
In the streets of Tbilisi, more than a million Georgians protested against Russia, many linking arms and waving the red and white Georgian flag. The office of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said he planned a trip including to Georgia this week despite the arrival of Hurricane Gustav on the U.S. Gulf coast.
The draft EU statement, which was circulated just before the meeting began and which could yet change, is an attempt to bridge differences among members on how to treat Russia.
France, Germany and Italy said any punitive action against the bloc’s largest energy supplier would be premature, but Britain called on the 27-nation EU to suspend talks on a wide-ranging new partnership agreement with Russia in protest.
“In light of Russia’s actions we should suspend negotiations on a successor to the partnership and cooperation agreement,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters.
A second round of negotiations on the accord, due to cover energy and trade ties, is due on September 15. Diplomats said EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also called at the summit for the September 15 talks to be cancelled.
That stance contrasted sharply with a conciliatory tone in Paris, where Prime Minister Francois Fillon said President Nicolas Sarkozy was ready to embark soon on a new mediation trip between Georgia and Russia.
“Either we want to relaunch the Cold War, point our finger at Russia, isolate it and stamp on it as was the case for a decade — that is not the choice of France or Europe — or we choose the option of dialogue,” Fillon told French radio.
“The German position is that we should not break off dialogue with Russia,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters as she arrived for the talks.
In an apparently conciliatory step, Russia said it wanted the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU to arrange an international police presence in buffer zones between Georgia and its breakaway regions.
The EU is looking to send civilian monitors to Georgia, with officials saying its presence could reach a few hundred staff.
Separately, NATO member Turkey began curbing Russian imports in a move officials said followed delays to Turkish goods at the Russian border since Ankara allowed two U.S. ships to transit the Bosphorus Strait to provide aid to Georgia.
“We don’t want to apply these measures, but we are acting reciprocally,” Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen told state-run news agency Anatolian.
According to the draft EU leaders’ summit declaration, the EU would look to make reconstruction aid available for Georgia and consider closer ties including talks on a free trade deal and an easier visa regime for its citizens.
Moscow has withdrawn most of its forces in line with a ceasefire deal but has kept soldiers in “security zones”, which include Georgian territory around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Western governments have demanded Moscow pull its troops back to pre-conflict positions, as it agreed to do under a French-brokered peace plan. The Kremlin says the troops are peacekeepers needed to protect the separatist regions from new Georgian aggression.