Thursday, August 28, 2008

Russia missile test heightens standoff with West


MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia on Thursday tested an inter-continental missile, reports said, heightening tensions with the West as France warned the European Union could slap sanctions on Moscow over the Georgia conflict.

Russia also sought international support for its stance at a summit with China and Central Asian nations.

The missile test in northern Russia came barely a week after the United States completed an accord with Poland on basing an anti-missile shield in central Europe and as Russia accuses NATO of building up its navy vessels in the Black Sea.

A spokesman for Russia's strategic nuclear forces said the test was successful, Russian news agencies reported. The announcement came as Russia complained about the number of NATO ships in the Black Sea and said it was taking "measures of precaution".

NATO said there were five warships taking part in exercises in the Black Sea that were organised before Russia's military offensive in Georgia on August 8 to rebuff a Georgian attempt to retake breakaway South Ossetia.

The standoff with the West deepened with President Dmitry Medvedev's announcement that Russia recognised South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

"There is no NATO naval build up in the Black Sea as Russian authorities are claiming in the media," alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.

In a statement, NATO said: "This deployment is routine in nature and has been planned for over a year. Notification of the requirement to transit the Turkish Straits was given in June well before the current Georgia crisis and is completely unrelated."

US warships have taken relief supplies to Georgia outside of the NATO exercises and other western nations are beleived to have vessels in the Black Sea. Russia has moved some of its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi.

EU states are considering imposing sanctions on Russia at an emergency summit on the Georgian crisis on Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
"Sanctions are being considered, and many other means," said Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union presidency.

"We are trying to draw up a strong text showing our desire not to accept" the situation in Georgia, he told reporters, while refusing to disclose what kind of sanctions were under consideration.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shrugged off the threat, saying it was made "just because they're upset that the 'little pet' of certain Western capitals didn't fulfill their expectations."

Lavrov suggested the French foreign minister had a "sick imagination" after Kouchner argued that Moscow could have designs on Ukraine, Crimea and Moldova.
Russia claimed it had secured support from China and four other nations at a summit in Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital.

The statement released by the six nations at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit voiced support for Russia's "active role" in "assisting in peace and cooperation in the region" but also called for dialogue and respect for "territorial integrity".

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