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In Apparent Truce, U.S. Sees Russian Fear of Global Reproof

Russian forces showed signs of withdrawal in some areas of Georgia, but announced plans to strengthen their presence in others, two weeks after conflict began on Aug. 8.

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Bush administration suggested yesterday that an apparent cease-fire in Georgia came about because Moscow feared it would be banished from Western-dominated international economic and political institutions if it did not stop its "aggression" in the former Soviet republic.

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"Russia has one foot into the international community . . . and one foot that is not," a senior administration official said. Membership in institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the Group of Eight major industrialized nations "is what is at stake when Russia engages in behavior that looks like it came from another time."

Officials indicated that an upcoming meeting between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO's governing board, had been canceled and that a NATO-Russia naval exercise, aimed at improving maritime security cooperation, would not take place as planned on Friday. "This is not a propitious time," a second senior official said. The officials appeared jointly at a briefing for reporters held on the condition that their names not be used.

Russia rejected the idea that it had agreed to the cease-fire out of fear of international ostracism. The United States "is as much interested in the relations with Russia as Russia is in the relations with the United States," said Vitali Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations.

Western governments, with little appetite for a direct confrontation with Russia, were unified in backing French President Nicolas Sarkozy's shuttle diplomacy in Moscow and Tbilisi, Georgia. But they adopted differing tones, with France on Monday resisting U.S. insistence that Russia be named as the aggressor in a U.N. Security Council condemnation that was ultimately abandoned. An overtly punitive approach made little sense, a French diplomat said, "when we're trying to negotiate a resolution with the Russians."

Although President Bush warned late Monday that Moscow's actions had already "substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world," the administration avoided making explicit threats in its own conversations with Russian leaders, one of the U.S. officials said, adding: "We don't need to."

Britain publicly played the role of bad cop yesterday. "Russia wants membership of the WTO, but it needs to play by international rules," Foreign Secretary David Milliband wrote in an article in the London Evening Standard.

Milliband warned that European energy consumers could turn against Russian suppliers and that the Group of Seven, as the organization was known before Russia was invited, could easily make international decisions without Moscow. "Europe and Russia want a wideranging Partnership and Co-operation agreement," Milliband wrote, "but this needs all sides to play by the rules. . . . Business as usual is not compatible with Russian aggression in Georgia."

Although options appeared limited, the senior administration officials said that the West actually has more leverage now over Russia than it did in 1968, when Soviet forces occupied Czechoslovakia. Then, one official said, "they didn't care about their integration into these institutions," or what the world thought of them.

Russia, the official said, now has "a lot more to lose than the Soviet Union did in '68."

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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