Britain today called on the EU to suspend talks on closer ties with Russia in protest at its invasion of Georgia, according to The Guardian.
As European leaders gathered in Brussels for an emergency summit, Britain, which is advocating a tough line on Russia, urged the EU to put on hold talks on a new strategic pact.
"In light of Russia`s actions we should suspend negotiations on a successor to the partnership and cooperation agreement," said a spokesman for the prime minister, Gordon Brown.
The existing EU-Russia partnership and cooperation agreement (PCA) was signed in 1997 and Russia has been keen on a new pact. Negotiations on an agreement covering political and economic cooperation, energy, justice and home affairs began in June.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated a ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi in his role as EU president, has convened the bloc`s first emergency summit since the run-up to the Iraq war in February 2003 to concentrate the minds of leaders on their policies towards Moscow.
Gordon Brown indicated yesterday that Russian membership of the G8 grouping of big industrial democracies could be frozen, an option that found some support from Germany.
Today, Russia warned against western support for Georgia`s leadership, saying it would be a mistake of "truly historic proportions".
In a hawkish speech, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, made it clear that Moscow wanted the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to lose power in Georgia. He called for an arms embargo to be imposed on the ex-Soviet republic until a different government is in place.
"If instead of choosing their national interests and the interests of the Georgian people, the United States and its allies choose the Saakashvili regime, this will be a mistake of truly historic proportions," he said in an address at Russia`s top foreign policy graduate school.
"For a start it would be right to impose an embargo on weapons to this regime, until different authorities turn Georgia [into] a normal state.
"Today`s EU summit should clear up a great deal. We hope the choice they make will be based on Europe`s fundamental interests." Lavrov said Russia`s relations with Nato were facing a "moment of truth".
France is worried that any tough action agreed by 27 European leaders at this afternoon`s summit in Brussels will provoke Russian retaliation and undermine its chances of playing peacemaker.
Russia showed no signs of flinching yesterday, as President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would sign deals providing military aid to Georgia`s breakaway provinces. Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, dared Europe to make the first move, telling Russian television: "If any of the European countries wants to serve someone`s narrow political interests, then go ahead. We cannot stop them. But we think, as they say in such cases, `You have to look out for number one`."
Diplomats and analysts say the EU meeting, scheduled to last three hours, is unlikely to bring about any radical movement in Europe`s relations with Russia, but that temporary diplomatic penalties could be approved, such as having the G8 meet without Russia, or postponing talks between Brussels and Moscow on a new long-term strategic pact.
In an article in the Observer yesterday, Brown delivered his toughest message on Moscow to date, following last week`s broadside condemning Russian behaviour by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, in a speech in the Ukraine capital, Kiev.
"In the light of Russian actions, the EU should review - root and branch - our relationship with Russia," said the prime minister. Russia`s unilateral action in recognising the independence of Georgia`s two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was "dangerous and unacceptable". Brown said he had told the Russian president at the weekend to "expect a determined European response".
A senior figure in the German chancellor Angela Merkel`s Christian Democratic party called for Russia`s membership of the G8 to be frozen. But divisions in the German government reflect the splits evident at the European level, with the foreign minister in Berlin, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, opposing action that risked escalating the crisis. "We need a strong and considered European role to return to reason and responsibility," he said.
While Britain is more closely allied with the former communist countries of the Baltic and central Europe in supporting tough action, Germany, France, and Italy are more reluctant to penalise Russia.
Rather than sanctions against Russia, today`s summit is more likely to offer stronger support for Georgia in its conflict with Moscow, pledging reconstruction aid, easier visas for travel to Europe, greater trade and pledges on Georgia`s territorial integrity.
Today`s summit is likely to open a longer process of rethinking European policies towards Russia. Officials in Brussels said a single meeting was unlikely to decide on "radical changes".
The summit will demand that Moscow, too, restore respect for Georgia`s borders, meaning Moscow would need to take the highly unlikely step of reversing its recognition of the two breakaway regions.
Yesterday, Saakashvili said: "I expect that Europe won`t give up faced with this dirty attempt at aggression."
Sarkozy`s letter to EU leaders said the meeting had to agree "a clear and united" message. "It`s up to Russia to make a fundamental choice in this respect," he said.
At the heart of the issue lies Europe`s vulnerability, since it depends on Russia for a third of its oil and 40% of its gas. Brown warned that this addiction had to be broken. "We risk sleepwalking into an energy dependence on less stable or reliable partners," he said.