Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, said yesterday that the Caucasus crisis was started by the US as an election ploy.
As Moscow found itself increasingly isolated internationally for invading Georgia and recognising two breakaway regions of the country as independent states, Putin suggested that the Georgia war had been cooked up in Washington to create a neo-cold war climate that would strengthen Republican candidate John McCain's bid for the White House.
After Wednesday's denunciation of Russian conduct by the G7 group of leading industrial democracies, Russia's key allies also resisted Moscow's pressure yesterday for support over Georgia.
At a summit in Tajikistan of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which Putin set up seven years ago, China and four ex-Soviet central Asian countries called for respect for the territorial integrity of states and criticised the use of force to redraw borders, a rebuke of Russian conduct.
President Dmitry Medvedev went to Dushanbe, Tajikistan's capital, to try to drum up support for Russia's position. But the summit statement only served to highlight Russia's worsening isolation. "Russia does not feel isolated and is not afraid to be isolated," said Yevgeny Chizhov, the Russian ambassador in Brussels.
He warned the EU that it would come off worse than Russia if a summit of EU leaders on Monday decided to impose sanctions on Russia, as suggested yesterday by Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister.
The EU summit, called by France, is the first such emergency meeting since the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003.
"Certain countries have asked that sanctions be imposed," said Kouchner. "Sanctions are being considered and many other measures."
He said the aim on Monday was to demonstrate strongly that Europe did not accept what had happened in Georgia.
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EU ambassadors are to meet in Brussels today to debate how to respond to the Georgia crisis. Despite Kouchner's words, economic or trade sanctions are not likely to be imposed by the European leaders whose countries depend on Russian gas and oil supplies and whose big business has much at stake in Russia.
There is some pressure for diplomatic retaliation against Moscow and to call off scheduled negotiations on a new strategic pact between the EU and Russia.
But the European commission said the next Russia-EU negotiations were still scheduled for next month and Chizhov said he knew of no plan to cancel them.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, treated the talk of European sanctions with contempt. "That's a demonstration of complete confusion, the product of a sick mind," he said.
Sanctions, said Chizhov, "will be to the detriment of the EU as much if not more than to Russia. I certainly hope reason and common sense will prevail".
Jean-Pierre Jouyet, France's minister for Europe, made it plain that Paris did not want to sever channels of communication with Russia. "The essential aim [of the summit], following the latest Russian declarations, is to show Europe's unity and capacity to act, balancing the need for dialogue and the need for firmness towards Russia," he told a meeting of diplomats.
In an interview with CNN, Putin, seen as the main force behind Russia's hammering of Georgia, amplified conspiracy theories aired in the Russian media - that the war was created by Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, and McCain to create an international crisis and fan anti-Russian hostility that would undermine Barack Obama's chances of getting to the Oval Office. "The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict to make the situation more tense and create a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president," Putin said.
The White House said Putin's allegations were "patently false" and the state department said it was "ludicrous" for the Russians to say they were not responsible for what had happened in Georgia.