Brown issues coded threat to Putin on G8 status
GORDON Brown, the Prime Minister, has condemned Russia's actions in Georgia as "unjustified" and warned that the escalation in tension risked destabilising the entire region.
In a strongly worded statement, he signalled that Moscow was putting its international reputation on the line with its "continued aggression" against the independent country.
That remark will be interpreted as a coded warning about Russia's status as a G8 member.
Mr Brown spoke as the conflict spread outside the breakaway South Ossetia province – where Moscow claims it is protecting the rights of its citizens – and into other parts of Georgia.
He said: "There is no justification for continued Russian military action in Georgia, which threatens the stability of the entire region and risks a humanitarian catastrophe. "
Calling for an immediate ceasefire, he went on: "Continued aggression against Georgia – and especially an escalation of the conflict beyond South Ossetia – will only serve to damage Russia's international reputation and its relations with countries across the globe."
Reaction to Russia was hostile across the British political establishment, with Jim Murphy, the Europe minister, condemning its incursions as "deplorable".
David Cameron, the Tory leader, went further, branding Russia a "dangerous" and "massive" bully.
He eschewed diplomatic language to attack Russia and call for Georgia's membership of Nato – which Downing Street backs – to be speeded up.
"The only language that bullies understand is when someone stands up to them," Mr Cameron said.
But Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and a foreign affairs expert, warned against bellicose rhetoric.
He said: "This is not an occasion for megaphone diplomacy. Russia's behaviour is disproportionate and unacceptable, but the only way to bring stability back to the region is through diplomatic means."
It emerged yesterday that Alex Salmond, the First Minister, had held talks with the Russian ambassador about the conflict.
The First Minister asked to meet Yuri Fedotov before they attended the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle on Saturday night, and he asked the ambassador to pass on his appeal for restraint in Georgia to the Russian government.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "The First Minister took the opportunity to have a private meeting with the Russian ambassador to make that clear.
"The ambassador pledged to communicate that message to the Russian government."
Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, said the conflict was a "disaster". He went on: "Russia is trying to send the strongest signal it can that it will not countenance further 'meddling', as it sees it, in its affairs.
"This is one of the only growing oil markets in the world and it is such a dangerous cocktail mix of politics, economics and strategic interests that, frankly, the health and wellbeing of the civilians of South Ossetia is nothing to do with it."
Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis continue tomorrow with an emergency EU meeting.
Russia has felt increasingly uncomfortable at being encircled by Nato members, as its breakaway republics embrace the western alliance.
However, Whitehall sources said Georgia's reaction to the conflict could make it less rather than more likely to join Nato. Its military capabilities have been left exposed and, had it been a member, Nato rules would have decreed that, by now, the West would have been, in effect, at war with Russia.
Bush critical of Russian military's response
GEORGE Bush, the United States' president, and other western leaders criticised Russia's military response as disproportionate yesterday.
The world's seven largest economic powers urged Russia to accept an immediate ceasefire and agree to international mediation.
Last night Mr Bush expressed concern about the "dramatic and brutal escalation" and said Russia's actions were endangering its ties with America.
He pressed Moscow to accept an immediate cease-fire and to pull back its troops as he returned from the Olympic Games in Beijing.
He also said there appeared to be an attempt by Russia to unseat Georgia's pro-western president, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Foreign ministers from the US, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Canada – the Group of Seven nations – held a conference call yesterday and urged Russia to agree to a ceasefire and respect Georgia's territorial integrity.
EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, is due to visit Georgia and Moscow today on behalf of the European Union, though it was unclear what could be achieved.
Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister who left for Georgia yesterday, also condemned the Russian action, saying it was "incompatible with international law".
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