• The EU summit venue in Brussels (Photo: © European Communities)

EU preparing snap summit on Russia-Georgia war

10.08.08 @ 08:53

  1. By Philippa Runner

Updated 13:30 The French EU presidency is preparing to call an emergency EU summit on the Russia-Georgia conflict, following a Polish request. A snap gathering of EU foreign ministers has already been organised in Brussels for Wednesday (13 August).

"The proposal of [Polish] prime minister Donald Tusk to hold a meeting of the European council at the level of heads of government has been accepted. We don't know the date yet," Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said at a press briefing in Warsaw on Saturday.

"There is...a possibility a formal summit will take place in Brussels later in the week," Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, told Swedish news agency TT.

A French government spokesman confirmed that EU foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in the EU capital on Wednesday, following a visit to Tbilisi and Moscow by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, and Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, on Sunday and Monday.

Mr Kouchner will present a three-point French peace plan based on an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of both armies and "full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia." Mr Stubb is going in his capacity as chairman of the European security club, the OSCE.

"The EU must find a new language, a new mode of cooperation in its relations with Moscow," Mr Kouchner told French daily Le Parisien before his departure. "The conflict with Georgia may affect the evolution of our relations."

A lower-level EU diplomatic mission has already arrived in Georgia to help broker a ceasefire, after Russian tanks and warplanes attacked Georgia on Friday (8 August). Russian jets hit an airport in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Sunday morning, while Russian warships moved toward Georgia's Black Sea coast.

The incursion came in response to Georgia's assault on Russian-backed rebels in the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia, many of whom hold Russian passports. The fighting has caused heavy civilian casualties in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the Georgian town of Gori.

The Swedish foreign minister in a statement on Saturday voiced the strongest criticism yet by any EU member state of Russia's actions.

"We did not accept military intervention by Milosevic's Serbia in other former Yugoslav states on the grounds of protecting Serbian passport holders. And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe," Mr Bildt wrote.

The presidents of ex-communist EU states Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said in a joint statement that: "The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the east of Europe...The Russian Federation has overstepped a red line."

Accusations fly

Meanwhile, Russia and Georgia have accused each other of committing atrocities, and disagreements between Russia and Georgia ally the US continue to confound UN security council efforts to issue a joint resolution on the conflict.

Georgia's shelling of Tshkinvali was "genocide," Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said after meeting South Ossetian refugees in the Russian border town of Vladikavkaz. "The territorial integrity of Georgia has suffered a fatal blow," he added, suggesting Russia will not let South Ossetia remain part of Georgia.

Georgia's "western friends" have contributed to the conflict by giving Tbilisi diplomatic backing and supplying arms, which "helped create the feeling of impunity inside the Georgian [president Mikhail Saakashvili]," Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said at a press conference in Moscow.

In a TV interview with the BBC, Mr Saakashvili said he had seen Russian warplanes deliberately fire on civilians in Gori. "We are dealing with war crimes here," he said, sitting in front of a Georgian and an EU flag. "We are a European democracy, a small European democracy, right now being butchered by this Russian government."

The president admitted Georgia cannot hold back the Russian army itself, if fighting goes on. "The world has to wake up and speak with one voice," he said. "The main thing here is to get international mediation, so there is some international framework and people can go back and rebuild their lives."

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