The Guardian & Press-TV – 2008-09-03 22:47:12
Cheney Heads for Tbilisi as Russia Warns against Rearming Georgia
Luke Harding and Julian Borger / The Guardian,
MOSCOW (September 4 2008) — The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, is due to arrive in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, today to underline America’s “deep and abiding interests” in the Caucasus, in the face of Russian warnings that any western moves to rearm the country could bring further instability, sharpening the standoff in the region between Moscow and Washington.
As Cheney flew from Azerbaijan to Georgia in a regional tour intended to underline US resolve, the Bush administration unveiled a $1bn aid package to rebuild the country’s civilian infrastructure. Cheney was also expected to discuss Georgia’s long shopping list of military hardware to help rebuild its army, which was severely mauled in last month’s brief conflict with Russia.
Georgian officials have said they want to equip their army’s existing four brigades with state of the art weaponry, and possibly add four more brigades.
Any such move would worsen tensions with Russia, which has used its occupation of large swaths of Georgia to raze as many army bases, and destroy or confiscate as much equipment as possible.
“All these calls on Tbilisi [by the US] about the need to restore destroyed military capability do not in any way promote the stabilisation of the situation in the region,” a Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, said.
Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has accused Washington of having advance knowledge of, and participating in, Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia last month. US military advisers had “probably” been involved in fighting Russian troops, Putin said.
During his visit to Azerbaijan yesterday, Cheney told reporters that the region was “in the shadow of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia”. “President Bush has sent me here with a clear and simple message for the people of Azerbaijan and this entire region: the United States has deep and abiding interests in your well-being and security,” Cheney said.
The dispatch of the vice-president to the area is in itself a message. Cheney leads the hawkish wing of the Bush administration, and has championed taking a tough line with Russia.
In his meeting with Georgia’s leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, this morning, Cheney is expected to add his voice to calls for Russia to withdraw its troops from deep buffer zones it has carved in Georgian territory, outside the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.
Moscow’s ambassador to London, Yuri Fedotov, said yesterday that Russia would withdraw its troops from those zones only when they could be replaced by international peacekeepers and once the Georgian government had signed non-aggression pacts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Fedotov said he “deplored” the severe criticism of Russia voiced recently by the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the foreign secretary, David Miliband. He claimed to have repeatedly warned the Foreign Office about the worsening crisis in Georgia in the weeks leading up to August 7, when the conflict ignited. He said he had been assured that Saakashvili was “under control”.
The Foreign Office rejected Fedotov’s account.
The Russian ambassador was speaking to a group of journalists about the prospects for a deal at a summit next Monday, when the French and current EU president, Nicolas Sarkozy is due to fly to Moscow with the head of the EU commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European foreign policy head, Javier Solana, to meet Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev.
“I’m not in a position to anticipate the outcome of Monday’s discussion, but if the EU proposes a very clear plan on how to prevent a potential confrontation and further shelling in the territory of South Ossetia … then it’s not difficult to deploy 200 or 400 people in the zones and to allow Russia to withdraw its personnel,” Fedotov said.
Russia: US needs Georgia to strike Iran
(September 3, 2008) — In an interview with Press TV on Wednesday, Russian Duma Deputy Sergei Markov said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ‘brought some support from Israel’ before he launched an attack on South Ossetia.
Georgian military forces launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia on August 7. Russia, in response, moved its forces into the region.
The conflict in South Ossetia claimed the lives of some 2,000 people and displaced 40,000 others.
When asked if an attack on South Ossetia was a prelude to an attack on Iran, the State Duma Deputy said, “We know that this war in South Ossetia is somehow connected with the aggression of Washington against Iran, possible bombing of Iran.”
“Washington helped Georgia to take control of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, (because) Washington needs Georgian territory to use for bombing against Iran,” he added.
The US and Israel have long threatened to launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear installations under the pretext that Tehran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has plans to develop nuclear weaponry.
This is while the UN nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran enriches uranium-235 to a level of 3.7 percent – a rate consistent with the construction of a nuclear power plant. Nuclear arms production requires an enrichment level of above 90 percent.
Currently suffering from electricity shortage, Iran has been forced to adopt a rationing program by scheduling power outages – of up to two hours a day – across both urban and rural areas in the country.