PARIS (Reuters) - Russia might have its eye on other neighboring countries such as Ukraine and Moldova after its armed forces stormed Georgia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday.
Russia’s armed forces overpowered Georgia’s troops earlier this month after Tbilisi tried to retake control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Russian troops continue to occupy parts of Georgia, and Moscow recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region of Georgia, Abkhazia, as independent states on Tuesday, prompting strong criticism from France and other Western powers.
Asked on Europe 1 radio whether Russia would now regularly choose to confront the West rather than cooperate with it, Kouchner said: “That is not impossible.”
“I repeat that it is very dangerous, and there are other objectives that one can suppose are objectives for Russia, in particular the Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova,” said Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the EU should signal clearly its support for Ukraine’s efforts to join the bloc in the light of a possible threat from Russia.
”“Ukraine could be the next political pressure point for Russia...Therefore it is important from a stability point of view to send a positive signal that it is possible for Ukraine to progress towards the Union,” Rehn said in Helsinki.
EU leaders are due to hold a long-scheduled summit with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on September 9 in the French Alpine town of Evian.
Like Georgia, Ukraine has a pro-Western president who wants his country to join NATO, a move away from Moscow’s sphere of influence which has angered the Kremlin. It also has a large Russian-speaking population, but is much bigger than Georgia.
The Crimea, in southern Ukraine, hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet at the port of Sevastopol under a lease that runs until 2017, and most people who live there are ethnic Russians.
Yushchenko has angered Moscow by suggesting Kiev may not renew the lease.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned another former Soviet republic, Moldova, on Monday not to make the same mistake as Georgia by trying to seize back control of its breakaway pro-Russian region, Transdniestria.
The 27-nation EU is holding an emergency summit next Monday and is still considering how best to respond to Russia’s actions in the conflict and to its decision to recognize Georgia’s rebel regions.
EU envoys on Tuesday asked planners to look at options for a civilian monitoring mission in Georgia, but agreed it would be premature to send armed peacekeepers into the region.
“However that would not be ruled out as part of a global settlement in accord with the United Nations,” said one diplomat. Any such settlement could be difficult if it needed the backing of the Security Council where Russia has a veto.
The fate of recently-launched negotiations over a new EU-Russia strategic partnership is in doubt, but Kouchner has played down suggestions that the EU should launch sanctions against Russia.
Reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris, Brett Young in Helsinki and Mark John in Brussels; editing by Robert Hart