MOSCOW – Russia warned the West on Monday against supporting Georgia's leadership and called for an arms embargo against the ex-Soviet republic nation until a different government is in place.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks are likely to anger the United States and Europe and enrage Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. He made it clear Moscow wants Saakashvili out of power in Georgia.
"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," he said.
"For a start it would be right to impose an embargo on weapons to this regime, until different authorities turn Georgia a normal state," he said in an address at Russia's top foreign policy graduate school.
Lavrov spoke as the European Union prepared for a summit Monday to discuss the Georgia crisis and further relations with Russia.
"Today's EU summit should clear up a great deal. We hope the choice they make will be based on Europe's fundamental interests," he said. He said Russia's relations with NATO are facing a "moment of truth."
Russia's ties to the West have been driven to their lowest point since the Soviet collapse of 1991 by the war last month in Georgia, where Saakashvili angered Moscow by courting the West and seeking NATO membership.
Russia repelled a Georgian offensive against the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia and sent troops, tanks and bombers deep into undisputed Georgian territory, where some still maintain positions. Moscow last week recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent countries.
The U.S. and Europe have accused Russia of using disproportionate force and of violating the terms of a cease-fire that called for the sides to withdraw their forces to pre-conflict positions. They have also denounced Russia's recognition of the separatist regions, saying Georgia's borders must remain intact.
Russia says it was provoked. Russian peacekeeping forces were stationed in South Ossetia before the war and Moscow had given most of South Ossetia's residents Russian passports in recent years, enabling the Kremlin to argue that it was defending its citizens when it responded to Georgia's Aug. 7 offensive in the separatist province.
"With its reaction to the Georgian aggression, Russia has set a certain standard of responding that fully complies with international law," Lavrov said. Russian soldiers, he said, followed "our deeply Christian tradition of dying for our friends."
The reactions of some Western countries to the crisis "illustrates a deficit of morality," he said. "It's high time for Europe to get back to simple, non-politicized and non-geopolitical values," Lavrov said.
Lavrov reserved particular criticism for the United States, which has trained Georgian troops, saying such aid had failed to give the U.S. sufficient leverage to restrain the Georgian government.
Instead, he said, "It encouraged the irresponsible and unpredictable regime in its gambles."
While Western governments have expressed regret at the Georgian offensive targeting South Ossetia, the Russian call for an arms embargo on a nation still bristling with Russian forces is likely to irritate the U.S. and Europe.
Lavrov's remarks will likely deepen Georgian suspicions that Russia's aim throughout the crisis has been to remove the pro-Western Saakashvili from power.
European Union leaders seeking to punish Russia for its war with Georgia and its recognition of independence for two breakaway Georgian provinces have few options and are likely to choose diplomatic pressure to isolate Moscow at their summit Monday.
Lavrov's implication that continued support for Saakashvili would further undermine relations with Russia were the latest in a bitter back-and-forth between Moscow and the West, with each saying it is up to the other to avoid plunging the world into a new Cold War.
"It's up to Russia today to make a fundamental choice" and to engage neighbors and partners in settling disputes peacefully," French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote in a pre-summit letter to EU leaders. "Russia's commitment to a relationship of understanding and cooperation with the rest of Europe is in doubt."