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Russian FM Lashes Out at Georgian President

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of trying to destabilize the region by inviting U.S. observers to join a European Union team monitoring the ceasefire that ended last year's brief war between the two former Soviet republics.

Lavrov's interview with the Vesti-24 television channel came just two days before the first anniversary of the start of the war that Russia and Georgia fought over the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia.

It also followed a phone call Tuesday from President Dmitri Medvedev to U.S. President Barack Obama on the occasion of Mr. Obama 48th birthday. The White House says the two men used the call to discuss the need to reduce tensions in Georgia.

Under a plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the European Union sent 240 unarmed monitors to oversee a ceasefire that ended the fighting. Last month, Georgia asked the United States to join the mission.

Lavrov said the presence of EU monitors is "an important stabilizing factor" and that Russia supports their presence. But he said the Georgian president's request for U.S. observers is part of plan to, in his words, "drag Americans into Georgia" and position them next to Russian military forces. "After that," he said, "the masters of provocation - and Saakashvili has plenty of them - will do their usual job."

Lavrov also said that NATO member states, in taking Georgia's side in last summer's conflict, acted according to what he called "Cold War templates."

The Russian foreign minister said the war was an "unforgiveable adventure" launched by Mr.that cost the lives of hundreds of people and was also a tragedy for the Georgian people.

Still, Lavrov said the issue is not interfering with relations with Western countries, including the United States. He said it did not prevent agreements from being reached during U.S. President Barack Obama's recent trip to Moscow.

But, the Russian foreign minister was critical of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Late last month, Mr. Biden told the Wall Street Journal newspaper that Russia's economy is "withering" and suggested this would force Moscow to make accommodations to the West on national-security issues.

Lavrov said Mr. Biden's interview with the Wall Street Journal was, in his words, an attempt "to pull all of us into the past," and that it read "like something rewritten" from speeches by top officials in President George W. Bush's administration.

The Georgian president, for his part, told the France 24 television news channel Tuesday that Moscow has made it clear, in his words, that its "mission" to "get rid" of his government is not over. Still, Mr. Saakashvili said Georgia "has neither the will, nor the means to attack Russia," adding that such an attack would be "complete suicide."

Vice President Biden telephoned the Georgian president Tuesday, stressing the need to avoid actions that could further destabilize the region.

Russia said Tuesday that it had placed its troops in South Ossetia on alert, charging that what it called Georgian "provocations" are continuing with the approach of the anniversary of the August 2008 war.

Russia says it intends to keep about 7,000 troops in South Ossetia and the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia indefinitely, despite repeated calls by Western governments to remove them.