Western leaders warned Russia on Wednesday to “change course,” hoping to keep a conflict that already threatens a key nuclear pact and could even raise U.S. chicken prices from blossoming into a new Cold War.
Moscow said it was NATO expansion and Western support for Georgia that was causing the new East-West divisions, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at the U.S. for using military ships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.
Meanwhile, Georgia slashed its embassy staff in Moscow to protest Russia's recognition of the two separatist enclaves that were the flash point for the five-day war between the two nations earlier this month.
The moves came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said his nation was “not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War.”
For the two superpowers of the first Cold War, the United States and Russia, repercussions from this new conflict could be widespread.
Russia's agriculture minister said Moscow could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, hitting American producers hard and thereby raising prices for American shoppers.
And a key civil nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington appears likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest.
On the diplomatic front, the West's denunciations of Russia grew louder.
Britain's top diplomat equated Moscow's offensive in Georgia with the Soviet tanks that invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring democratic reforms in 1968 and demanded Russia “change course.”
“The sight of Russian tanks in a neighboring country on the 40th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
Western leaders have accused Russia of using inappropriate force when it sent tanks and troops into Georgia earlier this month. The Russian move followed a Georgian crackdown on the pro-Russian South Ossetia.
Many of the Russian forces that drove deep into Georgia after fighting broke out Aug. 7 have pulled back, but hundreds are estimated to still be manning checkpoints that Russia calls “security zones” inside Georgia proper.
The Kremlin rejected Western criticism and even suggested Tuesday that the conflict could spread.
It starkly warned another former Soviet republic, tiny Moldova, that aggression against a breakaway region there could provoke a military response.