Georgia: Moscow accuses west of double standards

· Nato has no moral right to lecture us, says Kremlin
· EU backs off from threat of sanctions over Georgia

Russia bitterly accused the west of bias and double standards yesterday, following international criticism of its actions in Georgia, and amid signs that the European Union is backing away from sanctions against Moscow.

Russia's foreign ministry said it rejected criticism from the G7 group of industrialised countries. They condemned its invasion of Georgia, and its recognition on Tuesday of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent.

"This step is biased and aimed at justifying the aggressive actions of Georgia," the ministry said, adding that the G7 - Britain, France, Germany, the US, Italy, Japan and Canada - had made "baseless assertions about Russia undermining Georgia's territorial integrity".

Russia foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko criticised Nato for "putting pressure" on Russia and said there could be "irreversible consequences" for "stability" in Europe. Nato had no "moral right" to lecture Russia, he said.

The Kremlin's defiant tone comes ahead of a special EU summit in Brussels on Monday, called by France, to discuss the EU's future ties with Russia. On Thursday, France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, intimated that sanctions would be discussed. Yesterday, the EU appeared to be retreating from this position.

Moscow has made clear it will respond to any punitive measures from Brussels, which could include the suspension of a new EU-Russia partnership agreement. "The time to pass sanctions has certainly not come," said a diplomat from France, which holds the EU presidency.

Analysts in Moscow said last night that Russia's leadership was relatively unconcerned about the threat of EU sanctions. "I don't think the contemporary west has any means to punish a state that is not quite a rogue state," Yulia Latynina, a commentator with the independent Echo of Moscow radio station told the Guardian. She added: "The Kremlin didn't take Tbilisi and didn't shoot [Mikheil] Saakashvili. Expelling Russia from the G8 or the World Trade Organisation isn't important."

Strategically, she said, prime minister Vladimir Putin has satisfied his personal feeling towards Mr Saakashvili. "The war was brilliant in its design."

Other analysts said they did not expect Russia to reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the prospect of the states' international isolation. So far, only Belarus had said it will join Russia in recognising the two states.

"I think they are watching very closely to see what will happen at the EU summit," said Grigorii V Golosov, professor at the faculty of political sciences at the European University of St Petersburg. "But I think the Kremlin calculation is that the EU won't react seriously."

Putin's interview with CNN on Thursday - in which he blamed the war in Georgia on a Washington plot to propel John McCain into the White House - was a deliberate tactic, Golosov said. Putin's aim was to promote divisions between the EU and Washington.

Yesterday, Igor Sechin, the deputy prime minister, dismissed a report in the Daily Telegraph that Moscow was preparing to cut oil deliveries to western Europe, calling the claim "a gross provocation".


Luke Harding in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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