THE G7 group of leading industrialised nations last night issued a stinging condemnation of Russia's decision to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"We, the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, condemn the action," the group said, in what the UK Foreign Office described as an "unprecedented step".
"We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia.
"We call unanimously on the Russian government to implement in full the six-point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the EU, in particular to withdraw its forces behind the pre-conflict lines."
The G7 statement came hours after David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary, warned Russia that it must not start a new Cold War.
Speaking during a visit to Ukraine, Mr Miliband said if Russia started a new era of tension, there would be a price to pay.
His speech – made in the eastern European country which wants to join a growing number of Russia's neighbours in signing up to Nato – comes amid escalating tensions with Moscow. As well as the G7 statement, Britain issued its own condemnation of Russia's recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions.
In a reference to an article written by Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Miliband added: "The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don't want one. He has a big responsibility not to start one. We need to raise the costs to Russia for disregarding its responsibility. We need to re-examine the nature, depth and breadth of relations (with Russia]."
Mr Miliband accused Russia of not recognising the new geography of the 21st century. "Russia has not reconciled itself to the new map of this new region," he said.
"Today, Russia is more isolated, less trusted and less respected than two weeks ago. It has made military gains in the short term. But over time, it will feel the economic and political losses.
"If she truly wants respect and influence, and the benefits which flow from it, then Russia needs to change course."
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, yesterday urged the government to support the expulsion of Russia from the G8 group of leading countries. He said: "There is a danger of having your cake and eating it, of saying that you want a tough response to Russian aggression, you want to build a strong coalition, but then ruling out so many of the potential items.
"Having Russia as a member of the G8 at a time when her troops are still on the sovereign soil of another country, I think, is inappropriate."
The Russian president has set out to defend Moscow's actions in an opinion article for a British newspaper. Mr Medvedev said Russia had "no option" but to "crush the attack to save lives". He added: "This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory."
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, yesterday spoke to Mr Medvedev by telephone to tell him the presence of Russian troops in Georgia was a grave violation of the ceasefire. The Kremlin said that Mr Medvedev had assured Ms Merkel he remained committed to the ceasefire under which Russia agreed to withdraw most of its forces.
The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, warned that Russia could have its eye on other neighbouring countries, such as Ukraine and Moldova.
France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has called an emergency meeting of European leaders next week to review their relationship with Russia.
Mr Kouchner said it was "not impossible" that Russia would now regularly choose to confront the West, rather than co-operate with it.
Meanwhile, Russia will push for support from other allies today when it attends a summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in Tajikistan.
China will have to weigh up whether to offer its usual backing to Russia, or if this will encourage separatists along its own borders.