Russia says Abkhazia, South Ossetia situation different from Kosovo

Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday that Moscow's decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states has no parallel with Kosovo's declaration of independence made earlier this year.

Russia recognized Georgia's breakaway republics earlier on Tuesday. Both houses of the Russian parliament unanimously aproved on Monday a resolution calling on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to recognise and establish formal ties with the already de facto independent republics.

The move will further worsen Russia's relations with Western powers, already strained over Moscow's "disproportionate" response to Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been seeking independence since the early 1990s, resulting in bloody conflicts with Georgia. Their hopes were given a new lease of life following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February and subsequent recognition by most EU and Western countries, including the United States.

"In both cases the center started a war in Kosovo and South Ossetia, as well as Abkhazia, but the conflicts were halted in different ways - through the ruthless inhuman bombardment of Belgrade in the case of Kosovo and without punishing Tbilisi for its attacks on Sukhumi [Abkhazia's capital]," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"A ceasefire was agreed, peacekeepers were deployed and mechanisms for talks established. Belgrade has never tried to use military force or cast doubt on negotiations since 1999, but they were destroyed by Kosovo Albanians supported by the West. And it was Tbilisi that undermined the settlement mechanisms in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," the minister said.

"Therefore, drawing parallels is irrelevant here, and the difference is evident between Belgrade's policy towards Kosovo and how Saakashvili's regime behaved towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Lavrov said.

Tbilisi launched a military offensive against South Ossetia on August 8, seeking to retake control of the region. At least 64 Russian peacekeepers and hundreds of South Ossetian civilians died, with thousands more forced to flee the conflict.

Russia subsequently expelled Georgian forces, sending tanks and troops to the region and crossing into Georgian territory as part of Moscow's military response. Although Moscow has now withdrawn most of its troops from Georgia, some manned checkpoints remain on key roads

Russia says they are needed to deter further bloodshed and protect South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Lavrov also said Russia was unconcerned by the threat of possible sanctions being imposed by western countries following Moscow's decision.

"Russia is a self-sufficient country, and attempts to block our ambitious plans, which are extremely important for the country's social and economic development, will bring no good, although someone is obviously keen to take advantage of a provocation like Georgia's attack," Lavrov said.

[Source: Novosti, Sochi, 26Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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