Putin calls for EU "reasonable attitude" on Georgia crisis

Other News Materials 29 August 2008 23:31 (UTC +04:00)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Friday for the European Union to take a "reasonable attitude" on the Caucasus conflict at an EU summit next week and not impose sanctions. ( dpa )

He was speaking in an interview with Germany's ARD public television from Sochi in southern Russia.

"The issue of sanctions is not something we don't care about," he said. "We hope that reasonableness prevails."

Putin said Russia intended to withdraw its soldiers from the buffer zone they had take over in uncontested Georgian territory as soon as the crisis de-escalates.

He denied as "an outright lie" suggestions that Moscow had stepped up the conflict in order to force Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili out of office, but said he believed Saakashvili should step down.

"He ought not to be in public office," said Putin. "He ought to resign immediately."

Putin's remarks came as Russian and European officials tried to curb escalating tensions over Georgia on Friday as diplomats on both sides spoke out against sanctions.

Sanctions are among measure set to be discussed at an emergency session Monday of European Union leaders furious over Moscow's slow withdrawal of troops form Georgia. Russia, meanwhile, accused the Western powers of a build-up of warships in the Black Sea.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev called on Russia and the West to curb their animosities and "stop" a Cold War arms stockpiling scenario.

"Stop, stop and again stop! It is necessary to do everything to stop this escalation, or soon the soon Black Sea will overflow its shores with foreign warships," Gorbachev was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying.

"There is no need to simplify the conflict. It is serious, difficult - but it's as important as ever to think about how to live in Europe, how to build a united Europe," Gorbachev said.

EU diplomats expressed worries that Russia might use its control over oil supplies as a political tool, such as in the past when it once cut off the flow of oil to the Ukraine in a pricing dispute.

The British paper The Daily Telegraph said that an unnamed government official had warned clients to prepare for a possible cut- off in shipments to Poland and Germany.

But such fears were denied on both ends with Russia's energy minister promising "everything would be done" to ensure stable delivery and Germany saying they saw no disruption in supplies.

Moscow's ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov urged against sanctions Friday.

"I won't bet on it, but, at least, I hope that European leaders will be able to rise above their emotions and seriously take stock of the perspective of a strategic partnership with Russia," Chizhov was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying in Brussels on Friday.

Gorbachev highlighted the importance to the EU of stable relations with Russia, its largest neighbor and energy supplier.

"Sooner or later - Monday or later - they will be forced to ask themselves whether the current cooling of relations with Russia is too big a price to pay for supporting the actions of the Georgian leadership," he was quoted as saying.

Spain showed Friday it was not keen on retaliatory measures against Russia. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said it was not the time for sanctions, but for dialogue.

Spain and other EU members expected Monday's European Union summit to adopt no sanctions, but to send Russia a message of firmness and unity, making it clear that Russia's relations with Europe come under close scrutiny, according to diplomatic sources.