August 13, 2008 / 3:12 PM / 11 years ago

Russia says U.S. playing dangerous game in Georgia

MEIENDORF CASTLE, Russia (Reuters) - Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of playing a dangerous game in the Caucasus by backing Georgia and denied Moscow was not doing enough to prevent looting.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington had to choose between partnership with Moscow and the Georgian leadership which he described as a “virtual project”.

“We understand that this current Georgian leadership is a special project of the United States, but one day the United States will have to choose between defending its prestige over a virtual project or real partnership which requires joint action,” Lavrov told reporters.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday demanded Russia resolve a crisis with Georgia and said he would dispatch U.S. military aircraft with humanitarian supplies.

Lavrov, speaking to reporters at a state residence outside Moscow, hit back, saying Moscow had warned Washington about the dangers of backing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

“Bush’s speech said nothing of how Georgia was armed all these years, including by the United States,” Lavrov said.

“We have more than once warned our partners that this is a dangerous game. It (the Bush speech) said nothing about what had happened on Aug 8, when Western leaders maintained silence when Tskhinvali became a target of massive bombing,” Lavrov said.

“The Western political elite got excited only after the Russian leadership decided not to leave its peacekeepers to their fate, not to allow... ethnic cleansing as it had happened in Srebrenica,” Lavrov said.

Refugees streaming out of villages near South Ossetia on Wednesday described how armed groups looted and burned their houses after the Georgian army left.

Lavrov said he had told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia would prevent any looting in Georgian towns such as Gori, which is near South Ossetia where the conflict erupted last Thursday.

“I spoke today with Rice and she told me there are reports of acts of looting in Gori, that illegal groups are looting the city and Russian troops are doing nothing,” he said.

“If any such facts prove true, we will react in the most serious way,” he said. “The peaceful population should be protected. We are investigating all these reports and will not allow any such actions.”

Georgia repeatedly accused Russia of breaking a ceasefire in their six-day-old conflict on Wednesday by pushing troops into the Georgian town of Gori, a claim denied by Moscow.

“There is Russian presence near the towns of Gori and Senaki... We have never concealed this,” Lavrov said.

“They are there to neutralize a huge arsenal of arms and military hardware which they found there totally abandoned,” Lavrov said. “It was necessary to neutralize them in order not to create a threat for civilians”.

He also denied that Russian troops were present at the Georgian port of Poti.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Ron Popeski; editing by Ralph Boulton

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