Georgia Calls on European Union to Halt Partnership Talks With Russia Until Attacks Cease

Georgia appealed to the European Union on Monday to freeze its "strategic partnership" talks with Russia unless Moscow halts its military campaign against its small neighbor.

Salome Samadashvili, Georgia's envoy to the EU, said the 27-nation bloc must tell the Russians "they risk their future relationship with the European Union if they don't" stop their attacks in Georgia.

"We understand the situation is extremely difficult," she told reporters.

"But at the same time there are (economic) measures and there are political costs. It should be made clear that the Russian Federation should bear these costs" if it keeps up its attacks on Georgia, she added.

On June 27, Russia and the EU began talks for the so-called strategic partnership to replace a 1997 accord that has become meaningless given Russia's new oil and gas wealth and more assertive foreign policy stance.

The EU foreign ministers plan talks Wednesday in Brussels. They may meet with their Georgian counterpart, Ekaterina Tkeshelashvili, who is to talk with the NATO ambassadors on Tuesday at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country now holds the EU presidency, is in the region looking for ways to end the conflict before it spreads throughout the Caucasus.

He said he met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and found him "determined to make peace."

Samadashvili linked the hostilities between Georgia and Russia to NATO's refusal — at a summit in Bucharest, Romania, in April — to set her country on the path to membership in the alliance. The NATO leaders were wary of Russia's fierce opposition to such a move.

"We have been telling our friends and partners that the decision in Bucharest will have costs for us. Those are the costs which we are now facing," Samadashvili said.

She added Russia aimed to prevent a further expansion of both NATO — Ukraine is also eager to join the alliance — and of democracy.

"What they are doing today is creating a new reality," she added. "Either we find a way to respond together, or we have to (live) with the decision that we will face a different world tomorrow," said Samadashvili.

She denied that Georgia baited Russia by sending Georgian troops into South Ossetia last Friday. "For a number of months we have been under extreme pressure by the Russian side," said Samadashvili. "We have had people dying every day." She did not elaborate.

She expressed disappointment the EU has not reacted more forcefully to the crisis in her country.

"So far there has not been even a properly worded official statement that would tell them (the Russian) clearly that they have to stop and that they risk their future relationship with the European Union if they don't," she added.

The EU wants to upgrade its relations with Moscow by opening up Russia's energy sector to investors, broaden cooperation in fighting corruption, drugs and human trafficking, and strengthen democratic reforms and human rights in Russia.

But relations are not good. The EU argues that Russia badly needs Western capital and expertise to develop new energy fields and upgrade its aging pipelines, but that Moscow restricts exploration and other operations of foreign energy companies. Moscow insists it only wants to replace excessively generous concessions granted to Western interests under Boris Yeltsin, the late Russian president, with more equitable agreements.

The two sides also disagree over Kosovo and its declaration of independence from Serbia, Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan and global trade issues