Russia and US continue Black Sea stand-off


Russian and US warships moved to within less than 200 miles of each other today as tensions over Georgia continued to rise between the two countries. 

A US coast guard ship docked at the a southern Georgian port prompting Russia to send a missile cruiser and two support vessels to another Georgian port.

The manoeuvrings came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev officially recognised the two Georgian rebel territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

The US cutter Dallas, carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid, arrived in the Black Sea port of Batumi, south of the zone of this month’s fighting between Russia and Georgia. It avoided Georgia’s main cargo port of Poti, which is still controlled by Russian soldiers.

Poti’s port suffered heavy damage during the fighting and Russian troops have established checkpoints on the northern approach to the city so a US ship’s arrival could have been seen as a direct challenge.

The US missile destroyer McFaul left Batumi yesterday but will remain in the Black Sea, the navy said.

Meanwhile Russia’s missile cruiser, the Moskva, and two missile boats, anchored at the port of Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, 180 miles north of Batumi. The Russian Navy said they were for peacekeeping operations.

The West has called the Russian military presence in Poti a clear violation of an European Union-brokered cease-fire.

US vice president Dick Cheney tonight upped US pressure on Moscow, calling the Russian occupation of Georgia an "unjustified assault" and pledged to ensure the nation's territorial integrity.

"That young democracy has been subjected to an unjustified assault," Mr Cheney said in address to armed forces veterans gathered at the 90th National Convention in Phoenix.

The Group of Seven rich nations also issued a stinging condemnation of Russia's decision to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions.

"We, the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, condemn the action of our fellow G8 member," the group said in a joint statement released by the US State Department. "We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia."

Earlier France, currently holding the EU presidency, also denounced Russia's actions. “Nobody wants a return to the Cold War,” president Nicolas Sarkozy said again attacking Russia’s decision to recognise the breakaway states.

“This decision, which aims to unilaterally change Georgia’s borders, is simply unacceptable,” Mr Sarkozy said.

Russia hit back saying the decision to use US warships to deliver aid was “devilish.”

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that Nato had already exhausted the number of forces it can have in the Black Sea, according to international agreements, and warned Western nations against sending more ships.

“Can Nato — which is not a state located in the Black Sea — continuously increase its group of forces and systems there? It turns out that it cannot,” he said.

Many of the Russian forces that drove deep into Georgia after fighting broke out on August 7th have pulled back, but hundreds are estimated to still be manning checkpoints that Russia calls “security zones” inside Georgia proper.

Western leaders continued their campaign for Russia to comply completely with the cease-fire deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Mr Medvedev in a phone call to immediately pull all troops out of Georgia. The cease-fire requires both Russia and Georgia to withdraw to positions held before fighting began.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned Russia not to start a new Cold War, and suggested the European Union and Nato should review their relations with Moscow.

He said the EU and Nato should respond to “aggression” with “hard-headed engagement”.

The West has given substantial military aid to Georgia, angering Russia, which regards Georgia as part of its historical sphere of influence. Russia also has complained bitterly about aspirations by Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato.