MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia praised the European Union on Tuesday for taking a “responsible approach” to its conflict with Georgia by declining to impose sanctions on Moscow but said the EU had failed to understand its reasons for intervening.
Leaders from the 27 European Union member states met in Brussels on Monday and threatened to postpone talks with Russia on a new partnership pact if Moscow did not withdraw its troops to pre-conflict positions in Georgia by mid-September.
But the leaders were unable to reach a consensus on the sanctions that some members, including the Baltic states, had been pushing for, highlighting the bloc’s divisions on whether and how best to punish its largest energy supplier.
“In my view, the outcome is double-edged,” Medvedev said in an interview with the Euronews television channel, recorded at his summer residence on the Black Sea.
The EU did not understand what motivated Russia to move into Georgia and to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, he said.
“This is sad, but not fatal because things change in this world.”
“Another situation, in my opinion, is more positive. Despite certain divisions among the EU states on the issue, a reasonable, realistic point of view prevailed because some of the states were calling for some mythical sanctions,” he said.
Ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to U.S. allies in the region, a Kremlin aide said he expected Washington would also opt against imposing sanctions.
Cheney, due to leave on Tuesday for visits to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine, has been an outspoken critic of Russia, saying last month its push into Georgia could not go unanswered.
“We hope that a positive agenda in relations with the United States will prevail,” Sergei Prikhodko, chief foreign policy advisor to President Dmitry Medvedev, told reporters.
The statements contained none of the strident remarks made by Kremlin officials in the run-up to the EU summit and appeared designed to signal Moscow’s readiness to take a conciliatory stance with western countries if they also avoid confrontation.
Russia crushed its southern neighbor in a brief war last month after Georgia tried to recapture by force its pro-Moscow, separatist region of South Ossetia.
It has drawn Western condemnation by pushing beyond the disputed area, bombing and deploying troops deep inside Georgia proper and recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia said it was forced to intervene to prevent what it has called a genocide of the separatist regions by Tbilisi, and says it is honoring a French-brokered ceasefire deal.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia is strategically important to the West because it hosts oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russia.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Russia would suffer politically and economically for its military actions against Georgia even if it may have won short-term gains.
But he conceded that it did not make sense for the EU to isolate Russia, a major supplier of European oil and gas, describing the bloc’s approach as “hard-headed engagement”.
“Isolating Russia would be counter-productive, because its international economic integration is the best discipline on its politics,” Miliband wrote in the Irish Examiner newspaper.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to travel to Moscow with other EU officials on September 8 to discuss its adherence to the ceasefire plan and then decide whether partnership talks set for Sept 15-16 in Brussels can go ahead.
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.
But Russia’s powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin repeated Moscow’s unhappiness at the growing presence of NATO warships in the Black Sea, where Russia’s fleet has traditionally dominated.
“The reaction will be calm, without any hysterics. But of course there will be a response,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying in Tashkent.
Talks on the EU-Russia accord, meant to regulate ties in the energy sector and trade, started in July after an 18 month delay. Russian officials have dismissed the EU threat to suspend the talks, saying the bloc needs the pact as much as Moscow.