Russia says EU was right not to choose sanctions

14:53, 02 September 2008
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Russia praised the European Union for taking a "responsible approach"

Russia praised the European Union on Tuesday for taking a "responsible approach" to its conflict with Georgia by refusing to impose sanctions or freeze ties with Moscow, according to Reuters.

Leaders from the 27 European Union member states met in Brussels on Monday and threatened to postpone talks with Russia on a new partnership pact if Moscow did not withdraw its troops to pre-conflict positions in Georgia by mid-September.

But the EU summit was unable to reach a consensus on the sanctions that some members, including the Baltic states, had been pushing for, highlighting the bloc`s divisions on whether and how best to punish its largest energy supplier.

"There were calls from some states to impose sanctions on Russia and freeze relations," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

"But the main thing is that ... the majority of EU states showed a responsible approach and confirmed their course towards partnership with Russia, realising all too well the importance of mutually beneficial cooperation," it added.

The statement contained none of the strident remarks made by Kremlin officials in the run-up to the summit and appeared designed to signal Moscow`s readiness to take a conciliatory approach with partners it believes seek partnership and not confrontation.

Russia crushed its southern neighbour in a brief war last month after Georgia tried to recapture by force its pro-Moscow, separatist region of South Ossetia.

It has drawn Western condemnation by pushing beyond the disputed area, bombing and deploying troops deep inside Georgia proper and recognising the independence of South Ossetia and the separate breakaway province of Abkhazia.

The former Soviet republic of Georgia is strategically important to the West because it hosts oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russia.

`SHORT-TERM GAINS`

Britain said Russia would suffer politically and economically for its military intervention in Georgia even if it may have won short-term gains.

"It has made short-term military gains, but over time it will feel economic and political losses. If Russia truly wants respect and influence, it must change course," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband wrote in an article in the Irish Examiner newspaper.

But Miliband also conceded that it did not make sense for the EU to isolate Russia, a major supplier of European oil and gas, describing the bloc`s approach as "hard-headed engagement".

"Isolating Russia would be counter-productive, because its international economic integration is the best discipline on its politics," Miliband said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to travel to Moscow with other EU officials on Sept. 8 to discuss its adherence to a French-brokered peace plan and then decide whether partnership talks set for Sept 15-16 in Brussels can go ahead.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was due to leave Washington later on Tuesday for visits to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine -- all ex-Soviet states on Russia`s borders with which Washington has close relations.

Moscow has withdrawn most of its forces in line with a ceasefire deal but has kept soldiers in "security zones", which include Georgian territory around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Talks on the EU-Russia accord, meant to regulate ties in the energy sector and trade, started in July after an 18 month delay. Russian officials have dismissed the EU threat to suspend the talks, saying the bloc needs the pact as much as Moscow.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed Moscow`s military intervention over South Ossetia as setting a new standard for defending its national interests.

Reuters

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