Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Georgia says Russia is suffering from `imperial nostalgia'

AP , VILNIUS

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused Russia of trying to undermine national sovereignty and economic growth in the fledgling democracies emerging from the former Soviet empire.

Saakashvili warned that democratic advances in Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries since the collapse of communism were under threat from Moscow, which he said suffered from "imperial nostalgia."

"Freedom is under threat," Saakashvili told a forum of Baltic and Black Sea leaders in the Lithuanian capital. "Political forces in Moscow actively work to undermine our economies, our sovereignty, and even our system of governance."

Saakashvili, whose country is heavily reliant on imports of cheap Russian natural gas, accused Russia of using "new tools such as energy dependence, state censorship and the power of national monopolies" to bully its neighbors. He also noted a recent Russian ban on imports of Georgian wine.

"We still have imperial nostalgia around us," Saakashvili said.

Ties between Moscow and Tbilisi have cooled markedly since Saakashvili swept to power more than two years ago during Georgia's Rose Revolution.

As if to prove his point, Russia banned the import and sale of a popular Georgian mineral water on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported, a move certain to increase anger sparked by what Georgian officials say is a politically motivated ban on wine from the small, poor former Soviet republic.

Russia's chief public health and consumer protection official, Gennady Onishchenko, told Interfax that he signed a document ordering a complete ban on the import of Borjomi water into Russia, the agency reported.

Earlier on Thursday, US Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia of restricting the rights of its citizens, and said "no legitimate interest is served" by turning energy resources into implements of blackmail.

Russia this year doubled its gas prices to Georgia.

The summit's host, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, denied any notion that the conference was anti-Russian.

"We have clearly expressed that we want to see them within our ranks, be constructive ... and enjoy the benefits of being on peaceful community in Europe," he said.

The presidents of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Moldova also attended the summit, sharing their experiences in democracy-building after the Soviet collapse.

The countries are in different stages of integration with the West through membership in NATO and the EU. The Baltic countries and Poland are both NATO and EU members, while Ukraine and Georgia are still looking for membership in both.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said NATO hopefuls should not expect "any concrete invitations for accession" when her country hosts an alliance summit in November.

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