by Alexander Osipovich
MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia won support Thursday from China and Central Asian states in its standoff with the West over the Georgia conflict as the European Union said it was weighing sanctions against Moscow.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said he hoped the "united position" of a summit of Central Asian nations would "serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white".
The West has strongly condemned Russia's military offensive in Georgia this month and Medvedev's decision to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Ratcheting up pressure on Russia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union, said the 27-nation bloc was preparing sanctions on Moscow.
EU leaders meet Monday in Brussels for an emergency summit to press demands for a further Russian withdrawal from Georgia.
"Sanctions are being considered, and many other means," Kouchner said in Paris.
China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan voiced support for Russia's "active role" in resolving the conflict in Georgia, according to the draft of a joint statement released by the Kremlin.
Leaders from the countries met in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional group set up in 2001 to counter NATO influence in the strategic Central Asia region.
On Wednesday, the Group of Seven industrialised powers strongly condemned Russia's recognition of the two rebel regions.
"We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia," said the statement from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze warned meanwhile that Russia's recognition of the regions would boomerang on Moscow.
"They will live to regret it," Shevardnadze said in an interview in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, adding that the move would "encourage separatist movements within ethnically-diverse Russia".
Russia claims it had to act after Georgia on August 7 launched an offensive to retake South Ossetia, an attack that South Ossetia's prosecutor general said Thursday had killed 1,692 people, according to the Interfax news agency.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday called on Moscow to allow an international probe into the allegations of abuses.
"(Moscow) alleges that these atrocities were meted out on the South Ossetian population. Russia or South Ossetia must document whether this is the case and to what extent," Steinmeier told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.
On a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned Russia not to start a new Cold War.
But he also conceded that isolating Russia would be counterproductive because the West relied on cooperation with Moscow to tackle global problems like climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.
"The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don't want one," Miliband said, adding: "He has a big responsibility not to start one," he added.
Russia has lashed out at the West for ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea and warned that attempts to isolate Moscow could lead to an economic backlash.
Officials said they were monitoring a growing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, as the second of three US ships sent to deliver aid arrived in Georgia.
Moscow has accused the West of using aid shipments as a cover for rearming Georgia after the Russian military surge into Georgia this month left much of the Georgian military in tatters.
"Certainly some measures of precaution are being taken," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov. "It's not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aid using battleships."
In a reminder of Russia's energy muscle, he also warned against trying to isolate Moscow.
"Any attempts to jeopardise this atmosphere of cooperation... would not only (have) a negative impact for Russia but will definitely harm the economic interests of those states," Peskov said.
Russia moved its own naval forces to the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi, where they got a rapturous reception from Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh.
In Tbilisi, the secretary of the Georgian national security council, Alexander Lomaia, told AFP that Russian troops would leave the key Black Sea port of Poti on Thursday or Friday "as a result of international pressure".
No confirmation of such a move was forthcoming from the Russian side.
In the Georgian port of Batumi, the second of three ships sent by Washington arrived with aid for some of the 100,000 people that the UN refugee agnecy estimates have been displaced in the conflict.
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