Russia warns Georgia on bases.

Russia has adopted a hard line towards the new pro-Western leadership in Georgia as the former Soviet republic emerges a focal point of Russian-American rivalry in the Caucasus.

Moscow issued a stern warning to Tbilisi on Tuesday that any violent action against Russian military bases in Georgia would have "far-reaching consequences". The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Georgia's Ambassador to protest the remarks of a Georgian Opposition politician who threatened unspecified "action to compel Russia to close down its bases in Georgia". It was the first official interaction between the two countries since the Jan. 4 election of the U.S.-trained lawyer, Mikhail Saakashvili, as Georgia's President. Moscow greeted Mr. Saakashvili's landslide victory with stony silence. A crisp Foreign Ministry statement said that "Russia will formulate its attitude toward the new Georgian administration only after official election results have been announced," which is yet to happen.

This was in stark contrast with warm congratulations Mr. Saakashvili received from the U.S. President, George W. Bush, who promised all-out support to Georgia's new administration. The White House is sending the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to Tbilisi for the inauguration of Georgia's new President on Jan. 25 and has pledged new financial help to Georgia notwithstanding the fact that it has squandered much of the $2.5 billions the U.S. has spent on it since 1991. Russia denounced the peaceful overthrow of Georgia's veteran President, Eduard Shevardnadze, by the Saakashvili-led Opposition last November and accused the U.S. of complicity. Though Mr. Saakashvili called for "much closer, warmer and friendlier relations" with Russia, Moscow took strong objection to his demand for an early closure of two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia. It rejected a three-year deadline for the withdrawal proposed by Tbilisi and insisted on a `minimal' period of 10 years. For its part, the U.S. has strongly backed the new Georgian leadership in the row with Russia and vowed to press Moscow to withdraw its bases from Georgia. Washington sees Georgia as a strategic gateway to the oil-rich Caspian Sea, while Moscow has warned that efforts to ease it out may lead to the country's disintegration.

[Source: The Hindu, Ind, 17Jan04]

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