Dismissing Sanctions Calls, Russia Tightens Ties With Georgian Breakaways

By Sergei Blagov | September 15, 2008 | 7:13 PM EDT

Western sanctions.against Russia would fail to affect the country's policies and could furthermore backfire, President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of Russian business leaders Monday.~~

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Western sanctions.against Russia would fail to affect the country’s policies and could furthermore backfire, President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of Russian business leaders Monday.

Any sanctions would come as a double-edged sword and entail losses for both sides, he said.
“If attempts are made to introduce sanctions, damages will be symmetrical.”

Since Russia’s brief war with Georgia, which followed a Georgian military offensive against pro-Russian separatists in South Ossetia, some voices in the West have been urging retaliatory steps including sanctions, although no such moves have yet been taken.

In the latest of a series of steps viewed as provocative by the United States, Medvedev on Monday approved friendship treaties with the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They are expected to be signed at a ceremony in Moscow on Wednesday.

Late last month, the Russian president issued a decree recognizing the two regions as independent.

Moscow blames Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili for the crisis, and says he was emboldened by Western support, including U.S. backing for Tbilisi’s bid to join NATO.

In the face of strong Russian opposition, the U.S. is supportive of beginning the process of NATO membership for both Georgia and anther Soviet successor state, Ukraine. A decision on initiating membership action plans (MAPs) for the two could come at a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in December, although deep differences remain among alliance members.

Medvedev said late last week that even in Georgia had already begun the NATO membership process, Russia would still have attacked its neighbor in response for its offensive on South Ossetia.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of Politika Foundation, a Moscow think-tank, said the statement was intended as a warning to those who support Georgia’s NATO membership.

The Georgian leadership could provoke a global disaster because it does not consider the consequences of its actions, he said.

Under article five of NATO’s Charter an attack on any member is considered an attack on all. It would apply only to a full member, however, not in the case of a country holding MAP status. Article five has been invoked only once in the alliance’s history, after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

In an interview published over the weekend, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held the U.S. responsible for damaged bilateral relations. He urged the next president to improve strained ties.

Putin claimed Washington had done nothing to stop the Georgian offensive against South Ossetia last month, despite his direct appeals to President Bush.

Opinion polls continue to show a trend of anti-American sentiment in Russia – but also a sizeable increase in the level of interest among Russians in the U.S. presidential election contest.

A poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTSIOM), released earlier this month, found 47 percent of respondents were now interested in the American campaign, nearly 30 percent higher than had been the case three months earlier.

Of those polled, 30 percent had a positive view of Democrat Sen. Barack Obama while only seven percent preferred the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, a longtime and vocal critic of Russian policies during the Putin era.

In a joint statement released at the weekend, Russia’s five leading political parties – including the main pro-Kremlin United Russia – warned of possible U.S. provocations in the Caucasus region, linked to the election campaign.

The statement speculated that foreign armed forces may be deployed in Georgia, or that Georgian territory could be used in “an act of aggression” against Iran.

In a reference to McCain’s calls to expel Russia from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations – a position that preceded the Georgia war – a senior diplomat said expelling Russia would deal a blow to the group too.

Alexander Pankin, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s international organizations department, noted that Russia holds significant funds in Western banks.

“We helped the Americans to avoid more significant recession that could have happened unless our funds were placed there, invested in U.S. securities,” he said.

Earlier this year the Russian Central Bank said its investment in U.S. mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae short-term debt amounted to some $100 billion, although that has since been halved. The U.S. government on Sept. 7 took control of the two agencies.