Friday, August 29, 2008

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan | Russia claimed Thursday it won support from China and Central Asian states in its standoff with the West over the Georgia conflict.

The European Union said it was weighing sanctions against Moscow.

And in a multi-sided melee reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia threatened a series of retaliatory steps against the West including import restrictions on U.S. meat and poultry farmers.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev said he hoped the “united position” of a summit of Central Asian nations would “serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white.”

The West has strongly condemned Russia’s military offensive in Georgia this month and Mr. Medvedev’s decision to recognize the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.



Ratcheting up pressure on Russia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union, said the 27-nation bloc was preparing sanctions on Moscow.

The tensions have spread to the Black Sea, which Russia shares unhappily with three nations that belong to NATO and two others that desperately want to, Ukraine and Georgia. Some Ukrainians fear Moscow might set its sights on their nation next.

A U.S. military ship carrying humanitarian aid docked at a southern Georgian port, and Russia sent a missile cruiser and two other ships to a port farther north in a show of force.

The maneuvering came a day after Mr. Medvedev had said his nation was “not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War.”

Russia’s agriculture minister said Moscow could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, hitting American producers hard and thereby raising prices for American shoppers.

Russians sometimes refer to American poultry imports as “Bush’s legs,” a reference to the frozen chicken shipped to Russia amid economic troubles following the 1991 Soviet collapse, during George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

And a key civil nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington appears likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest.

On the diplomatic front, the West’s denunciations of Russia grew louder.

Britain’s top diplomat equated Moscow’s offensive in Georgia with the Soviet tanks that invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring democratic reforms in 1968, and demanded Russia “change course.”

“The sight of Russian tanks in a neighboring country on the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

Western leaders have accused Russia of using inappropriate force when it sent tanks and troops into Georgia earlier this month. The Russian move followed a Georgian crackdown on the pro-Russian South Ossetia.

Many of the Russian forces that drove deep into Georgia after fighting broke out Aug. 7 have pulled back, but hundreds are estimated to still be manning checkpoints that Russia calls “security zones” inside Georgia proper.

In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, boxes of aid were sorted, stacked and loaded onto trucks Wednesday for some of the tens of thousands of people still displaced by the fighting. Some boxes were stamped “USAID - from the American People.”

In the Black Sea, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas, carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid, docked in Batumi. The missile destroyer USS McFaul was there earlier this week delivering aid, and the U.S. planned to leave it in the Black Sea for now.

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