Ukrainian president criticises Russian recognition of rebel regions in Georgia

The Ukrainian president today condemned Russia for recognising as independent the rebel Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Viktor Yushchenko said the decision was "unacceptable" and threatened security in countries of the former Soviet Union.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, is due to make a speech in Ukraine today condemning Russia's decision. He said he was visiting Kiev in an attempt to assemble the "widest possible coalition against Russian aggression".

Miliband's French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, warned that Russia might have its eye on other neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Moldova after its invasion of Georgia.

France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has called an emergency meeting of EU leaders next week to review the relationship between Russia and Europe.

Kouchner told Europe 1 radio that it was "not impossible" Russia would now regularly choose to confront the west rather than cooperate with it. "There are other objectives that one can suppose are objectives for Russia, in particular the Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova."

Like Georgia, Ukraine has a pro-western president who wants his country to join Nato, an idea that angers the Kremlin. Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population, but is much bigger than Georgia.

Russia's Black Sea fleet is docked at the port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, southern Ukraine, under a lease that runs until 2017, and most people who live there are ethnic Russians.

Yushchenko said Ukraine might try to raise the cost of leasing the Sevastopol base to the Black Sea fleet, a renegotiation Moscow has said would break a 1997 agreement.

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, is hoping to drum up support from eastern allies at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) tomorrow.

Russia's allies in the former Soviet Union, Asia and elsewhere, who traditionally side with the Kremlin against the west on contentious issues, are not expected to give their backing at the summit in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe.

The biggest prize for Russia would be to win the support of China when Medvedev meets the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, at the summit. Alexey Mukhin, head of the Centre of Political Information thinktank, said this was unlikely. "China, which has its own separatists, will be the biggest problem. The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unacceptable for Beijing."

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of Russians believe Moscow should recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and almost two-thirds (63%) think Moscow should agree to absorb the two regions into Russia should the separatists request it, according to a poll published today.

Russian pollster VTsIOM said one in 10 of the 1,594 Russians polled opposed Moscow's recognition of the two breakaway regions.

Medvedev has been accused of inflaming the crisis with his independence declaration. "We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new cold war," Medvedev told a news agency. "But we don't want it, and in this situation everything depends on the position of our partners."

He said the west would have to "understand the reason behind" the decision to recognise the regions if it wanted to preserve good relations with Russia.

Miliband said Moscow's recognition of the two regions was "unjustifiable and unacceptable" – a line also taken by the US president, George Bush, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Bush condemned Medvedev's decision as irresponsible and inconsistent with UN security council resolutions and the French-brokered ceasefire plan. "Russia's action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations," he said.

A German government statement said Merkel spoke with Medvedev by phone this morning and demanded the "immediate implementation" of the EU ceasefire. It said Merkel viewed the continuing presence of Russian troops in Georgia outside the separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a "serious violation" of that plan.

[Source: The Guardian, London, Uk, 27Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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