13 Aug 2008

EU foreign ministers hold emergency talks on Georgia

9:56 pm on 13 August 2008

Foreign ministers from the European Union have begun an emergency meeting on the crisis in Georgia.

France, which currently holds the EU presidency, wants the meeting to endorse its peace initiative. It also wants the EU to consider sending peacekeepers to secure a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia and protect humanitarian supplies.

But at a news conference in the Georgian capital Tbilisi earlier, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli accused Russian forces of violating a ceasefire with troop movements around the country.

Russia has dismissed the accusation, but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia will withdraw troop reinforcements from South Ossetia as long as Georgian troops do the same.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr Saakashvili agreed on Wednesday to a modified version of a peace plan with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to military operations in Georgia on Tuesday, saying he was winding up the massive operation because it had succeeded in its goals.

Earlier, Mr Sarkozy flew to Georgia after meeting Mr Medvedev in Moscow, where he held a joint news conference with Mr Saakashvili. He said the text would be presented to the meeting of European Union foreign ministers so they could throw their weight behind it. It would then provide the basis for a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The changes made had been approved by Mr Medvedev and included removing a reference to talks on the future status of South Ossetia, the two leaders said. Instead, the text provided for the opening of international talks on ways to restore security and stability in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr Sarkozy said he believed Georgia's territorial integrity was "guaranteed by the spirit of this text".

US response

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Russia's integration into international institutions is at risk because of its military operations in Georgia.

Dr Rice did not specify what consequences Russia might face.

But her warning came as the US cancelled a naval exercise with Russia to indicate its disapproval of Moscow's attacks on its neighbour. The exercise this month was to involve warships from Russia, France, Britain and the US in the Sea of Japan, as well as an onshore component in the Russian port of Vladivostok.

It is the first concrete protest by the US against what it considers Russian aggression. The US says it is considering further action.

Aims achieved, says Russia

Mr Medvedev said the military operation, in which Russia deployed tanks, fighter jets, thousands of men and warships, had succeeded. "The aggressor has been punished and has suffered very considerable losses."

However, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said on Tuesday that he wanted more evidence of a Russian ceasefire. "Despite the Russian president's claims earlier this morning that military operations against Georgia have been suspended, at this moment, Russian fighter jets are bombarding two Georgian villages outside South Ossetia."

Russia's Defence Ministry dismissed the allegation as an "information provocation", adding that Georgian guns continued to pound its positions in South Ossetia.

About 100,000 Georgians have been displaced by the fighting.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the two sides must withdraw to the positions they occupied on 6 August, before fighting erupted in earnest.

He repeated NATO's pledge that former Soviet Georgia would one day become a member of the alliance - a move Russia bitterly opposes.

The fighting erupted on Thursday when Georgia sent forces to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Russian region that threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s and declared itself independent, albeit without international recognition.

Oil pipeline

British-based oil company BP says it has shut down a pipeline running through Georgia because of the security situation.

The pipeline carries oil from Central Asia to the Georgian port of Supsa on the Black Sea.

There have been reports that Russian planes bombed pipelines in Georgia, but BP says it is not aware of any damage.

Georgia does not produce oil but it is a vital transit country for both oil and gas.