Sun, Oct 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Putin warns Georgia of `bloodbath'

GRAVE WARNINGS The Russian president and his defense minister warned of serious consequences if Georgia resorted to force to bully breakaway regions

AFP AND AP , LAHTI, FINLAND,AND TBILISI

Two teenagers take part in NGO-led activities calling against violence and aggression in connection with the Georgian-Russian tensions in Tbilisi on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

Speaking at a meeting with the 25 EU leaders in Lahti, Finland, on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Georgia of a "bloodbath" if it attempted to wrench back control of breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia with military force.

He placed the blame for a recent deterioration in Russia-Georgia relations entirely on Tbilisi.

"The issue does not lie between Russia and Georgia, the issue is between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Putin said.

"To our regret and fear, it is heading for a bloodbath. Georgia wants to resolve the disputes with military action."

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s when the Abkhaz and Ossetian ethnic groups revolted against central Georgian rule and the regions are openly supported by Moscow.

Putin said that Russia had no intention of intervening directly in a "frozen conflict" resulting from the break-up of the Soviet Union and called on all sides to find a compromise.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov warned on Oct. 8 that Russia would not "stay on the sidelines" if Georgia "attacked" the regions, where Russia has peacekeepers and most residents have been given Russian citizenship.

Responding to Putin's comments, the Georgian Foreign Minister criticized Moscow's tough stance against Georgia and pleaded with Europe yesterday to not remain silent as tension mounts between the ex-Soviet neighbors.

"We need your voice, the collective unified voice of Europe," Gela Bezhuashvili said in an interview. "Don't leave us alone."

Bezhuashvili accused Putin of "insulting the intelligence of his European colleagues."

"This is about a clash of values," Bezhuashvili said in a late-night rebuttal, delivered first in English and then in his native Georgian in the Georgian capital.

"Putin is using Georgia as a pretext to evade this simple fact. It is a clash between European values and practices and those that are practiced in Russia today.''

Bezhuashvili also insisted that Georgia wants healthy, neighborly relations with Moscow but that it will not tolerate "Russia's monologue."

"They still don't understand that we are different," he said. "That we see things differently ... Georgia is now appearing as a role model of a successful democracy in post-Soviet space."

"The last thing we want as a young democracy is trouble," said Bezhuashvili, who plans to travel to Moscow on Nov. 1-2 for what he hopes will be talks that calm tensions.

After Georgia temporarily detained four purported Russian spies, the Kremlin launched a transport blockade against the nation of 4.5 million, effectively severing Georgia from its main market. Moscow has also cracked down on Georgian migrants in Russia.

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