BERLIN (AFP) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday called on the EU to be "truly objective" when the bloc gathers for an emergency summit next week over the conflict in Georgia, German media reported.
European nations must carry out a "truly objective evaluation" at the summit on Monday, Putin told German television ARD in an interview, the station said in a statement.
"We are not indifferent to the issue of sanctions," he said in the interview conducted in the Russian city of Sochi, according to ARD. "We hope that reason will prevail."
Putin also said in the interview, which was to be broadcast late Friday, that Russian troops would withdraw from the "buffer zone" in Georgian territory once the situation allows, ARD said.
"We have no intention of keeping our troops in security zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the long-term," the former Russian president said.
He added that Russia would like to see observers from the European Union and the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe in those regions.
"We will also help South Ossetia secure its own border," Putin said.
The EU summit on Monday will boost support to Georgia and warn Russia there can be "no business as usual" in relations but refrain from imposing sanctions, officials said Friday.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said some EU states were considering sanctions on Russia, but the French presidency said Friday that the summit will not call for sanctions.
The EU has already expressed its strong condemnation of Moscow's decision this week to recognise the independence of the rebel Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, at the heart of the conflict.
In the interview, Putin also dismissed as a "provocation" suggestions that Russia had designs on Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.
"We have long recognised the Ukrainian borders," he said.
Analysts and the media in Ukraine have raised concern that Russian troops will target Crimea as long as President Viktor Yushchenko continues to openly support Tbilisi in the Georgia-Russia conflict.
The Russian prime minister said it was a "lie" that Russia intervened in South Ossetia for reasons other than to protect residents there.
If that were true, "it is us who would have initiated this war, which we did not do," he said.
Also on Friday, Georgia broke diplomatic relations with Russia, heightening hostilities between the neighbours as Moscow also hit back at Western criticism.
Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia on August 8, one day after Georgia launched a military offensive to reclaim control of the rebel province from Russian-backed separatists.
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