- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS | European Union leaders seeking to punish Russia for invading Georgia face limited options and are likely to choose diplomatic pressure to isolate Moscow at their summit on Monday, EU officials say.

The French EU presidency says sanctions were not being considered, Agence France-Presse reported. Russia supplies the European Union with a third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas — a dependence that is projected to rise significantly in the future.

But the 27 European leaders are expected to offer more humanitarian, economic and moral support for Georgia and signal that normal relations with Moscow are impossible with Russian troops violating a cease-fire agreement.

French and Belgian officials also have said that EU leaders may name a special envoy to Georgia to ensure that the cease-fire is observed. They said the European Union might send a high official — perhaps French President Nicolas Sarkozy — on a shuttle mission to the region.

“Russia’s commitment to a relationship of understanding and cooperation with the rest of Europe is in doubt,” Mr. Sarkozy, who is chairing the summit, wrote in a pre-summit letter to the EU leaders.

“It’s up to Russia today to make a fundamental choice” and to engage neighbors and partners in settling disputes peacefully, Mr. Sarkozy wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

Mr. Sarkozy, whose country now holds the EU presidency, wrote that the leaders must “seriously examine relations between the European Union and Russia,” adding that he counted on a “clear and united message.”

On Sunday, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze asked the European Union and the U.S. to impose sanctions on companies and individuals doing business in Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without its permission.

“What we are calling for is … sanctions addressing those individuals, business and officials who by their actions, current or future, seek to somehow continue to violate our territorial integrity,” he said in an interview with the AP.

Russia sent mixed signals over the weekend. On Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the European Union to send additional observers to monitor a cease-fire between Russian and Georgian forces — a potential opening for cooperation with Europe.

On Sunday, however, Mr. Medvedev warned that Russia would retaliate against sanctions.

“We are not advocates of sanctions and consider them to be a last resort,” Mr. Medvedev said in an interview to Russian television.

Imposing sanctions requires the adoption of special laws, he said. “If needed, we also can adopt such special laws,” the president warned.

EU leaders are expected to call for a reappraisal of relations with Russia and agree on a series of diplomatic measures to pile pressure on Moscow to withdraw all of its troops from Georgia.

Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia on Aug. 7, hoping to retake the province that has had de facto independence since the early 1990s.

Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed into Georgia. Mr. Sarkozy crafted a cease-fire deal in mid-August, but Russia has ignored its requirement for all forces to return to prewar positions.

Russia claims the cease-fire accord lets it run checkpoints in security zones of up to 4 miles in Georgian territory.

Mr. Sarkozy said that the European Union must insist Russian troops leave Georgia and be ready “to assume a presence on the ground in support of all efforts toward a peaceful and lasting solution to conflicts in Georgia.” He did not elaborate.

Russia has faced isolation over its offensive in Georgia and stands alone in its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The U.S. and Europe have closed ranks in condemning Russia’s actions but are struggling to find an effective response.

Possible EU actions against Russia include a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, holding off on talks for a broader economic partnership with Moscow, adding to the $18 million in humanitarian aid to repair Georgia’s infrastructure and contributing to the peace monitoring mission the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe operates there.

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