Germany's Schroeder says Georgia sparked fighting

Source: Reuters
16 Aug 2008 10:57:46 GMT

BERLIN, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder blamed Tbilisi on Saturday for sparking hostilities with Moscow and suggested its breakaway regions could not remain part of Georgia following the violent clashes of the past week.

In an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel, Schroeder also criticised the West for failures in its dealings with Russia and urged Europe to strengthen its ties with Moscow.

Schroeder developed a close relationship with then-Russian president Vladimir Putin during his 7 years as chancellor and he now chairs a German-Russian consortium that is building a major gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

"I don't believe Russia is pursuing a policy of annexation and I also don't believe that there will be a return to the previous status quo for South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Schroeder said, referring to the separatist Georgian regions. "That is out of the question."

Both regions are internationally recognised as part of Georgia, but they are loyal to Moscow and their leaders have long sought independence from Tbilisi.

Schroeder's stance appears at odds with that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the United States, who have both said the regions must remain part of Georgia.

Berlin, Washington, London and a host of former Soviet satellites in central Europe have condemned Russia's military response in the conflict as disproportionate.

"The starting point of the military confrontation was Georgia's march into South Ossetia. We shouldn't confuse things," Schroeder said, when asked who was responsible for the outbreak of violence between Russian and Georgian troops.

He doubted the United States, a strong ally of Georgia, was not informed about the initial Georgian offensive given that it has military advisers stationed in Tbilisi.

"In my view, we have seen major mistakes by the West in its policy towards Russia," Schroeder said.

He urged the European Union to press ahead with plans to forge a "strategic partnership" pact with Moscow, saying Europe risked losing influence and pushing Russia towards China if it did not work with the Kremlin.