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Russia Reacts Mildly to EU Condemnation

Russia has offered a muted response to Monday's European Union special summit meeting on Georgia, saying the majority of European countries confirmed the path toward partnership with Russia. During its one day emergency summit, the European Union strongly condemned Russian action in Georgia and agreed to suspend talks with Moscow on a wide-ranging partnership agreement until Russian troops withdraw. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from the Russian capital.

A statement released on the Russian Foreign Ministry website says a minority of EU countries called for a freeze in relations and condemned Russian foreign policy. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko later read the entire statement at a Moscow news conference.

But the Ministry's main point, as read by Nesterenko, is that the EU majority demonstrated a responsible approach by confirming its path towards partnership with Russia, fully realizing the meaning of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Independent political analyst Nikolai Petrov at the Moscow Carnegie Center told VOA the Georgian conflict has shifted from fighting to a battle over interpretation, which he says is often contradictory. He points to European Union condemnation of Russian aggression and Moscow's relatively mild reaction.

Petrov says the tone set by the Russian Foreign Ministry and repeated by most Russian publications, with the exception of the Kommersant business daily, is completely positive. The analyst says Moscow thinks the summit made a mountain out of a molehill because the Europeans in general adopted no bad decisions for Russia.

Kommersant, which has a circulation of nearly 177,000, wrote that the EU decision was exceptionally tough on the country. The newspaper notes European leaders not only called on other nations not to follow Russia's lead in recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also to freeze talks on a new EU partnership agreement with Russia until it withdraws its forces from Georgian territory. If the withdrawal does not occur by the next EU-Russia summit on November 14, Europe has threatened to reassess its relations with Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says the country is strictly observing an agreement to regulate the Georgian conflict reached on August 12 by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy. That agreement says Russia must withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions.

But Russian troops remain in a buffer zone in Georgian territory around South Ossetia. Moscow refers to the zone as an area of its peacekeeping responsibilities.

Analyst Nikolai Petrov says Russian troop positions can be easily verified, adding that Russia is engaged in a form of propaganda over the issue.

Petrov says Moscow is playing a game that may influence a domestic public opinion, but in no way improves Russia's position with European countries.

French President Sarkozy is expected to visit Moscow on September 8 for a detailed review of ways to implement the Georgian peace plan that he and President Medvedev agreed to last month.