- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

UPDATED:

A senior Russian military official on Friday threatened Poland for agreeing to a treaty with the U.S., as President Bush called on the Kremlin to stop “bullying” the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Georgia’s capital of Tsibili, persuaded Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to sign a treaty with Russia and then called on Russia to remove all of its military forces from the small country “immediately.”

“With the signing of this accord, all Russian troops, and any paramilitary and irregular troops that entered with them must leave immediately,” she said.

Meanwhile, Russian Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Poland’s decision on Thursday to host a U.S.-backed missile defense system had made the former communist bloc country a “target” for Russian military action.

“By hosting these, Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 percent,” said Gen. Nogovitsyn, according to wire service reports. “It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority.”

At the same time, the United States and Russian presidents tried to talk themselves back from the brink of a new Cold War or armed conflict, but continued to disagree about the Kremlin’s actions in Georgia.

President Bush, in a statement from the White House, tried to find a proper balance between standing up for Georgia and keeping already tense relations with Russia from falling apart completely.

Mr. Bush vowed not to “cast aside” Georgia, and said Ms. Rice was in Tblisi “expressing America’s wholehearted support for Georgia’s democracy.”

But he also said that supporting the tiny country does not necessarily have to mean losing a partnership with Russia, with whom the U.S. has sought to work on issues such as countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions and building a missile defense system in Europe.

“The Cold War is over,” Mr. Bush said, repeating a statement he has often made in the last few years as tensions with Russia have increased under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s leadership.

Speaking to reporters outside the Oval Office, moments before departing for a two-week vacation at his Texas ranch, the president argued that Russia no longer needs to conduct itself as it did during the Cold War.

“The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us. A contentious relationship with Russia is not in our interests and a contentious relationship with the U.S. is not in Russia’s interests,” he said.

But Mr. Bush also delivered a stern rebuke to Russia for its invasion and ongoing occupation of Georgia, accusing the Kremlin of “bullying and intimidation.”

“Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world,” Mr. Bush said. “Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations, or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation.”

As Mr. Bush spoke, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was beginning a press conference in Sochi, Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Of course we don’t want a long- or short-term worsening of relationships,” Mr. Medvedev said. “On the contrary, we have always felt it is necessary to develop our relationships in full, with the European Union, with the United States.”

Yet the Russian leader also criticized the missile defense agreement, which will place 10 missile interceptors and a permanent U.S. military base on Polish soil, and also cements a mutual protection treaty between the two nations.

“Of course, the decision did not bring the necessary kind of calm,” Mr. Medvedev said.

The Bush administration, which has pushed for the missile defense system since the beginning of its first term, says the interceptors, and coordinated radar system in the Czech Republic, are to protect Europe from a nuclear Iran or rogue countries in the Middle East.

Mr. Medvedev called this a “fairy tale.”

“It’s clear what really happened, and I don’t need to comment on it. It is very sad for Europe,” he said.

Mrs. Merkel, standing next to Mr. Medvedev, backed up the U.S. point of view, saying that “the agreement is not aimed at Russia at all.”

But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk clearly indicated Thursday that he was entering into the agreement to avoid suffering the same fate as Georgia. Poland and other former communist bloc countries fear the very type of aggression threatened in Gen. Nogovitsyn’s hawkish statements.

Mr. Medvedev, who is viewed by many as a proxy of Mr. Putin, promised to “work with everyone in heartfelt and open and frank way,” but also said that “our partners should clearly realize what occurred and the consequences of what occurred” in Georgia.

Russian forces invaded Georgia last weekend after a Georgian military incursion into South Ossetia, one of two provinces on the border between Russia and Georgia that is claimed by both countries.

Over five days of fighting, at least 2,000 were killed and 100,000 displaced. The Russians claim that Georgia committed atrocities in South Ossetia, and Mr. Medvedev referred in his remarks to “this tragic event.”

Western observers and government officials are dubious of Russian claims.

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