MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused the United States on Saturday of provoking Moscow by using warships to deliver relief aid to its ally Georgia, with which Russia fought a brief war last month.
“I wonder how they would feel if we now dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean, suffering from a hurricane, using our navy,” Medvedev said, adding that a whole U.S. fleet had been dispatched to deliver the aid.
Russia has also accused U.S. warships of rearming Tbilisi’s defeated army, a charge dismissed as “ridiculous” by Washington.
Vice President Dick Cheney stepped up U.S. criticism of Russia’s actions in Georgia, accusing Moscow of reverting to old tactics of intimidation and of using “brute force.”
NATO has rejected talk of a buildup of its warships in the Black Sea, saying their recent presence in the region was part of routine exercises.
The biggest U.S. ship to arrive so far, the USS Mount Whitney, dropped anchor on Friday off the Russian-patrolled Georgian port of Poti.
Medvedev, speaking at a meeting of his advisory state council, said he had summoned the council to discuss changes in Russia’s foreign and security policy after the war.
Tension between Moscow and the West had eased when the OSCE security body said on Saturday Russia was allowing its observers to circulate freely throughout Georgia, but the breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia later said it was forging military cooperation with Moscow.
“We’ve had very good access. I think we’re working at it and the Russians are, I’d argue, opening up,” said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb in Avignon, chairman in office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE report comes days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy travels to Moscow for talks with Medvedev to assess Russian compliance with a French-brokered peace plan.
The European Union agreed on Saturday to send an “autonomous mission” to Georgia to monitor Russia’s withdrawal from occupied territory, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, accusing Moscow of failing to respect several points in the peace plan.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief but intense war after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation by Moscow.
The conflict has dented confidence in the Caucasus as an energy transit route — Georgia is at the heart of two crucial oil and gas pipelines which bring high-quality crude and gas from booming oil state Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey.
Cheney, speaking in Italy after a tour of former Soviet states including Georgia, said Russia’s leaders “cannot have things both ways”.
“They cannot presume to gather up all the benefits of commerce, consultation, and global prestige, while engaging in brute force, threats, or other forms of intimidation against sovereign democratic countries,” he said.
Analysts have also questioned the feasibility of the ambitious Nabucco gas pipeline project, which would bring Caspian Sea gas to Europe via Georgia, reducing reliance on Russia.
Russian stocks and the rouble have been hurt as foreign investors pull money out because of increased political risk.
The West has stepped up support for Georgia to join NATO — a move Moscow opposes on the ground that Georgia is in its sphere of influence — since Russia recognised the Georgian breakaway rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
So far only Nicaragua has followed Russia’s lead in recognising the two provinces as independent. In a setback for Russia, its ex-Soviet security allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation stopped short of doing so late last week.
Tbilisi and Western states have accused Russia of annexation, a claim Moscow sharply denies.
On Saturday self-styled Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh said he expected to reach agreement with Moscow soon on military cooperation.
“We’re insisting (on military cooperation) and we will ask the Russian Federation to leave Russian troops in Abkhazia,” Bagapsh told reporters in the Russian capital, adding that the agreement should be signed within the next few days in Moscow.
“(The Russian military) will also probably be in front of the security zone,” he said, referring to a zone set up on the Abkhaz boundary in the early 1990s, when the province fought off Georgian rule. Russian peacekeepers have been based there since.
Hostilities in Georgia have given new impetus to efforts to prevent other conflict in the broader Caucasus region.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a landmark visit to neighbouring long-time foe Armenia on Saturday to attend a soccer match he said could help end a century of mutual hostility and aid regional security.
Reporting by Oleg Shchedrov and Aidar Buribayev in Moscow, Mark John and Francois Murphy in Avignon, Paul de Bendern in Yerevan; writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Dominic Evans