West condemns Medvedev for backing break-up of Georgia

Russia’s president backed independence claims of two breakaway republics in Georgia today, a dramatic move that reignited tensions between the two countries which have fought a brief but bloody war over the disputed territories.

The Government of Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president, called the declaration a de facto annexation of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and compared the decision to Nazi Germany’s carving up of Czechoslovakia in 1938, which led to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Georgia accused its giant neighbour of seeking to provoke renewed fighting, which would allow its armoured divisions to move around the capital Tblisi.

But the leaders of the two tiny would-be states hailed Mr Medvedev’s decision to back their bids for independence as "historic," and there were scenes of celebration inside their main towns.

"I have signed decrees on the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Mr Medvedev said in a televised address. "Russia calls on other states to follow its example."

Instead, the Russian declaration ran into a barrage of international condemnation.

Britain was among the first western states to reject the unilateral Russian move. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said Russia’s decision "further inflames an already tense situation" and vowed to build the "widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia".

He said: "Today’s announcement by President Medvedev that Russia will recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia is unjustifiable and unacceptable. It will also not work.

"It is contrary to the principles of the peace agreement, which Russia recently agreed, and to recent Russian statements."

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State , also labelled the move "regrettable." She said that Russia’s formal recognition of the territories "puts Russia in opposition to the Security Council resolution to which it is a party".

Today’s provocative statement from Moscow is widely seen as a payback for the West’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence from Russian ally Serbia.

That stinging blow to Russian diplomacy, combined with the eastwards expansion of Nato in recent years, has raised the stakes in a high-risk power struggle stretching from the Balkans and Eastern Europe around the rim of the former Soviet Empire.

With Georgia urging its western backers to stand strong behind it, its main ally America appeared to be the first to blink in its potentially explosive showdown with Moscow. A US diplomat in Tblisi said two US warships would be docking at a Georgian port controlled by Russian troops today, before quickly retracting the statement.

Inside Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there were scenes of celebration as the news broke.

In Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital on the Black Sea coast, office workers thronged the streets, opening champagne bottles while celebratory gunfire rang out. "We feel happy. We all have tears in our eyes. We feel pride for our people," said Aida Gubaz, a 38-year-old lawyer. "Everything we went through, now we are getting our reward."

While Mr Medvedev accused Georgia of "genocide" for its armed campaign to regain control of South Ossetia this month, Tblisi insists the two regions are integral parts of its territory from which hundreds of thousands of Georgians were ethnically cleansed in bitter civil war following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Alexander Lomaia, the head of Georgia's national security council, said Russia was building up forces near the town of Akhalgori, around 20 miles north of the capital, from which they could control strategic hills overlooking Tblisi.

"The separatists who are now in Akhalgori were planning to move further deep into Georgia's territory," he said. Georgia also accuses Russia of forcing residents to take Russian passports in a en effort to bolster the hand of the separatists. "We've told them that we don't want confrontation. The situation in Akhalgori is alarming," said Mr Lomaia.

The narrow road leading from the capital to Akhalgori was flanked with Georgian police checkpoints today, while Georgian soldiers with rocket-propelled grenade launchers could be seen deploying in fields beside the road.

At the entrance to the town, a few hundreds yards from the last Georgian checkpoint, a dozen South Ossetian militiamen, in military fatigues and white armbands, manned a roadblock, allowing local people in minibuses to enter but keeping foreign journalists out.

Their commander said that contrary to the Georgian accusations, Russian forces had largely pulled back and left only a small contingent of "peacekeepers" in line with the ceasefire agreement that ended open hostilities last week

"This is South Ossetia," said the commander, referring to Akhalgori by its Soviet-era name, Leningori, as a Russian army helicopter swooped low over the road. A road sign with the town’s Georgian name lay crushed by the roadside, near a militia armoured vehicle.

"The border is three kilometers from here," the commander said, pointing beyond the Georgian checkpoints. "We are going to start to build control of the territory."

As Georgia’s security council held an emergency discussion of the Russian backing for its breakaway republics, the Russian president added his own ominously defiant words.

"We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War," said Mr Medvedev, after ordering his foreign office to start work on establishing diplomatic ties with the secessionist regions.

"But we don't want it and in this situation everything depends on the position of our partners."

[Source: The Times, London, Uk, 26Aug08]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

The Question of South Ossetia
small logoThis document has been published on 27Aug08 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.