President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday the war with Georgia has shown the world that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with" — his most aggressive comments to date on the conflict with Russia's southern neighbor.
Medvedev said the fighting in August was forced upon Russia and insisted that Russia had to act to save lives. He spoke at the opening of State Council, a high-level government body made up of governors and others.
"Russia will never allow anyone to infringe upon the lives and dignity of its citizens. Russia is a nation to be reckoned with from now on," Medvedev said.
"We have reached a moment of truth. It became a different world after Aug. 8. Let's call things as they should be called — because of this aggression, a real war took place, which took the lives of Russians, Ossetians and Georgians," he said.
The conflict over South Ossetia showcased Russia's resurgent military and economic clout and has presented the strongest challenge to the West since the end of the Cold War.
Russia considered many people in South Ossetia its citizens because it gave them passports even though the separatist territory was in Georgia.
Medvedev also criticized the United States and other Western nations, though not by name, for challenging Russia's intervention in Georgia, which started after Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia's main city on Aug. 7.
"Millions of people supported us, but we've heard no words of support and understanding from those who in the same circumstances pontificate about free elections and national dignity and the need to use force to punish an aggressor," Medvedev said.
The United States has moved to counter Russia, both lambasting Moscow for what it called a disproportionate military response and providing humanitarian and economic aid to Georgia.
Much of the U.S. aid has been brought into Georgia on warships, prompting Russian officials to question whether the aid is truly humanitarian or just a cover for arms shipments, a charge U.S. officials have dismissed. Prior to the war, the United States had helped Georgia improve its military.
"Unfortunately, the situation is like this ... the rearming of the Georgian regime, including under the flag of humanitarian aid, is continuing," Medvedev said.
"It's interesting how they would feel if we were now to send humanitarian aid using our navy to the countries of the Caribbean Sea, which recently suffered from a destructive hurricane," he added.
Georgia, a South Caucasus nation long dominated by Russia, sits astride a strategic corridor for Caspian Sea and Central Asian oil and gas. Georgia's desire to join NATO and have closer dealings with the West has deeply angered Russia.
"They are continuing to try to put political pressure on us," Medvedev said. "They will be able to do nothing of the sort.
"But I will clearly state this: confrontation is not our choice. We have again confirmed our readiness for equal, mutually beneficial relations, cordial relations which are formed on the basis of real principles of international law," he said.
Russia has recognized Georgia's two separatist provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent nations despite protests from the European Union, the United States and Georgia.
In the French city of Avignon, the European Union's 27 foreign ministers were holding talks Saturday to see how they could convince Moscow to fully implement the EU-brokered cease-fire that ended the fighting.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet with Medvedev on Monday to press Russia to withdraw all troops from Georgia, which it has not yet done.