Medvedev Disappointed in Dushanbe

APIranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greeting President Dmitry Medvedev at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Dushanbe on Thursday.
Moscow fell short of the diplomatic support it was looking for Thursday, as Central Asian states and China failed to back its recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, offering instead only qualified praise for Russia's actions in the Georgian conflict.

That failure, coupled with a statement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that European Union leaders were set to consider sanctions against Russia at a special session Monday, threatened to leave Russia even further isolated diplomatically.

The hope of winning significant support from the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance Moscow has embraced as a counterbalance to NATO in Central Asia, vanished with a joint statement at a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, calling for the respect of all countries' territorial integrity and denouncing the use of force in local conflicts.

Russia has steadfastly rejected the territorial-integrity argument in Georgia, saying Tbilisi lost such a right by attempting to establish control of South Ossetia by force.

Thursday's SCO declaration said, "The presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of respect for the historical and cultural traditions of every country and to efforts aimed at preserving the unity of each state and its territorial integrity."

It was unrealistic for President Dmitry Medvedev to expect the organization, in which China plays a leading role, to support Moscow's position on South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence, given Beijing's own concerns over its own separatist Tibet and Xinjiang provinces, said Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"Medvedev might have had some chance to win support from some individual Central Asian states after bilateral talks but never in the format of the whole alliance, which acts by consensus and where most members view China as the major partner," Lipman said.

So far, only the Hamas government in Gaza has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

Belarussian Ambassador to Russia Vasily Dogolev, when asked Thursday about the possibility his country would also offer recognition, appeared to answer in the positive, saying: "As far as our support is concerned, we are allies, and that says it all," Reuters reported.

Difficulties continued Thursday on the Western diplomatic front.

Kouchner, who a day earlier said the West could assume that Moldova and Ukraine might also be targets for Russia, told journalists in Paris that "sanctions are being considered and many other means as well," Reuters reported.

"I don't want to talk about sanctions myself ahead of time, when the meeting itself has not taken place," he said. "But we are working with our 26 partners at this moment."

Moscow has so far said it expected the EU to limit itself to condemning the recognition of independence for the two provinces and that any sanctions would be of a symbolic nature and represent no real hardship for Russia.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accompanied Medvedev to the summit in Dushanbe, reacted bitterly to Kouchner's comments about Ukraine and Moldova.

"These are the product of a sick imagination, and that probably applies to sanctions as well," Lavrov said. "I believe it is a demonstration of complete confusion."

Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency and brokered the cease-fire deal between Moscow and Tbilisi, had an hour-long telephone conversation late Wednesday evening, the Kremlin and Elysee Palace said in statements. Neither side mentioned the subject of sanctions.

The White House said Thursday that it was premature to discuss whether the United States would consider sanctions against Russia over Georgia, Reuters reported.

Forced to react in a meaningful way, the EU leaders might put together a package of immediate sanctions, at the same time trying not to harm the strategic and long-term relationship with Russia, said Vladislav Belov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The West's moves to punish Russia over Georgia to date have been easily parried by Moscow.

Threats to block Russia's entry accession to the World Trade Organization were answered by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's order to the government to examine pulling out of earlier trade agreements deemed detrimental to Russia's interests. NATO's cancellation of planned joint military exercises with Russia resulted in Moscow's suspension of all military cooperation with the Western alliance, with exception of activities related to the effort in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, France turned down an initiative from Poland and the Baltic states to invite Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Monday's EU summit in Brussels.

Saakashvili called Thursday for Georgia's immediate admission to NATO. The alliance turned down a push to grant Tbilisi a Membership Action Plan, a transitional status, in April.

Speaking on Lithuanian national television from Tbilisi, Saakashvili called on Europe "not to leave [Russia] unpunished," saying that otherwise it could attack Ukraine, and the Baltic and Central Asian states in a number of weeks in order to restore the Soviet Union, Interfax reported.