MOSCOW Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia will respond calmly to an increase in NATO ships in the Black Sea in the aftermath of the short war with Georgia but promised that "there will be an answer."
Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev sternly warned the West that it would lose more than Moscow would if it tried to punish Russia with sanctions over the war with Georgia.
Russia has repeatedly complained that NATO has too many warships in the Black Sea. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Tuesday that currently there are two U.S., one Polish, one Spanish and one German ship there.
"We don't understand what American ships are doing on the Georgian shores, but this is a question of taste, it's a decision by our American colleagues," Putin reportedly said. "The second question is why the humanitarian aid is being delivered on naval vessels armed with the newest rocket systems."
Russia's reaction to NATO ships "will be calm, without any sort of hysteria. But of course, there will be an answer," Interfax quoted Putin as saying during a visit to Uzbekistan.
Asked exactly what measures Russia would take in response to NATO ships in the Black Sea, Putin was quoted as answering, "You'll see."
As if to emphasize the country's strength its control over a growing percentage of European energy supplies Putin traveled to Uzbekistan to announce a deal that would tighten Russia's hand on Central Asian energy exports to the West.
In an interview with Italy's RAI television broadcast Tuesday, Medvedev said that Russia doesn't fear expulsion from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.
"The G-8 will be practically unable to function without Russia because it can make decisions only if they reflect the opinion of top global economies and leading political players of the world," Medvedev said. "That's why we don't fear being expelled from the G-8."
Presidential candidate John McCain is among those who called for Russia's expulsion from the elite club of the world's richest countries.
Medvedev also warned that NATO would suffer more than Russia if its ties with Moscow were severed.
"We don't see anything dramatic or difficult about suspending our relations if that's the wish of our partners," Medvedev said. "But I think that our partners will lose more from that."
NATO nations depend on Russia as a transit route for supplies going to the alliance's troops in Afghanistan.
At a summit Monday, the European Union issued a declaration saying Russia was violating the terms of its cease-fire with Georgia. It warned that talks on a political and economic agreement with the Kremlin would be postponed unless Russian troops pulled back from positions in Georgia.
Britain and eastern European nations held out for a tougher line, but Europe's dependence on Russian oil and natural gas deterred stronger sanctions.
Russia supplies the EU with a third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas a dependence that the EU's administrative body says will rise significantly in the future.
Putin announced Tuesday that Russia and Uzbekistan will build a new natural gas pipeline that will pump Turkmen and Uzbek gas into Russia's pipeline system, which Russia will re-export to Europe.
The project, which has been under discussions for several months, will strengthen Moscow's hold over Central Asian gas and undermine Western-backed efforts for a rival trans-Caspian route.