By Stefan Wagstyl and James Blitz in London and Roman Olearchyk in Kiev
Published: August 27 2008 14:53 | Last updated: August 27 2008 22:54
Britain led a chorus of support for Ukraine on Wednesday as western fears rose of possible Russian attempts to build on its victory in Georgia by threatening neighbouring states.
Speaking during a visit to Kiev, David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, called on the European Union and Nato to prepare for “hard-headed engagement” with Moscow following its military action in Georgia.
“Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law,” he said.
Mr Miliband’s remarks coincided with warnings from Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, and Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister.
In an unprecedented step, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised countries also issued a joint statement on Wednesday to condemn “Russia’s excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts” of the country.
The warnings came after Moscow recognised the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Tuesday in the first effort to redraw international borders in the former Soviet Union since its 1991 collapse.
Mr Kouchner warned that the situation was “very dangerous” because Russia might now be considering other targets such as the divided state of Moldova and Ukraine, with its strategically important Crimean peninsula.
In depth: South Ossetia crisis - Aug-14EU leaders step up criticism of Russia - Aug-27Comment: Moscow’s plan to redraw Europe map - Aug-27Comment: Russia could push China closer to west - Aug-27US avoids face-off over Black Sea ship - Aug-27West will need to review oil routes - Aug-27The comments came as the EU prepared for an emergency Georgia summit on Monday.
The US welcomed Mr Miliband’s remarks but there was no immediate response from Moscow, which adopted a conciliatory tone urging the west not to damage broad mutual ties. Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, was in Tajikistan, at a summit of central Asian states including China, seeking support for his actions in Georgia.
Mr Bildt, in a Financial Times interview, criticised Russia as “a 19th century power”.
Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s pro-west president, highlighted the potential for conflict by questioning the agreement under which Russia uses the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, in Crimea, for its Black Sea fleet. He said Russia’s actions were “a threat to everyone, not just for one country”.
His remarks were echoed by Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgian president. In Thursday’s Financial Times, Mr Saakashvili writes: “This story is no longer about my small country, but the west’s ability to stand its ground to defend a principled approach to international security.”
Meanwhile, the US avoided a potential clash with Russia by diverting a navy ship carrying aid to the Georgian-controlled Batumi instead of the Moscow-controlled Georgian port of Poti.