RUSSIA SHRUGS OFF EU 'PUNISHMENT'
Jessica Le Masurier

Sky News
Sept 2 2008
UK

As the Russian Prime Minister struck a macho pose with a Siberian
tiger, the EU looked rather toothless after its emergency "what to
do about Russia" summit.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Tajik counterpart
Imomali Rakhmon inspect troops in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Could the European Union's so-called "punishment", the postponement
of EU-Russia partnership talks, actually play in Russia's favour?

Russian affairs expert Alexander Rahr told Sky News Online the move
may have suited Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He said: "Medvedev
wants to avoid an outdated partnership deal with the EU as he would
like a more strategic approach.

"Russia doesn't want to be pressed into obeying EU rules. It wants
to stall the talks. The EU has played into Russia's hands."

The European Union re-emphasised its support for Georgia on Monday
and criticised Russia's continuing military presence there. There
was, however, no real condemnation of Russia's behaviour - just a
vague statement about potentially postponing EU-Russia partnership
negotiations if Russia does not withdraw its troops from Georgia
within the next three months.

Meanwhile, both Russia and Georgia took the opportunity to whip up
more patriotic fervour over the Caucasus crisis.

Georgians held anti-Russian protests to coincide with the summit in
Brussels while the Russian media branded the talks a failure.

In the Georgian capital Tbilisi, protesters formed a human
chain. President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed a million people had
gathered there as he rallied the crowds.

He said: "The whole of Europe, the whole world is with us. Georgia
will never stop resisting, Georgia will never surrender."

More protests were held across Georgia as well as in London and
Athens. Demonstrators waved red and white national flags and chanted
"Georgia! Georgia!".

Russian newspapers claimed Moscow had got the upper hand after the
EU said although it would freeze talks on a partnership deal with
Russia it would not impose economic sanctions.

The Russia daily Kommersant called it a "victory for Russian
diplomacy". Russian newspapers led with sarcastic headlines like;
"Europe can keep sucking our oil and gas". The government newspaper
Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the outcome was no surprise: "The mutual
dependency between Russia and the EU leaves no alternative to
developing close bilateral relations. This was once again confirmed
at the EU summit in Brussels."

It appears the EU is keen to negotiate rather than row with
Russia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to lead an EU delegation
to Moscow and Tbilisi next week.

Tensions in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region
between Armenia and Azerbaijan are all to be factored into an EU
Caucasus "stability pact". But critics say the EU is already too
stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan to channel enough money into a
serious plan for stabilising the Caucasus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had some advice for the West
on how to deal with the crisis. He picked up the Russian tiger theme
again, implying, in his Shere Khan-esque voice, that it might just
be best to let Russia remove the Georgian President.

He said: "If instead of choosing their national interests and the
interests of the Georgian people, the United States and its allies
choose the Saakashvili regime, this will be a mistake of truly
historic proportions."