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|User Info||Russia Backs Independence of Breakaway Georgian Areas ; entered at 2008-08-26 11:56:19|
Registered: 2008-02-25 New England
Russia Backs Independence of Breakaway Georgian Areas|
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: August 26, 2008
Russia on Tuesday formally recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two enclaves in Georgia whose separatist aspirations stirred the fierce conflict this month.
The step, which goes beyond Russia’s military operation and is intended to consolidate its military success into permanent political gains, is viewed as highly provocative in the West, which has insisted on the preservation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.
It drew immediate condemnation from the United States and its allies.
Acting a day after Russia’s Parliament unanimously supported the enclaves’ request to secede, President Dmitri A. Medvedev announced that he had signed decrees recognizing the two territories’ independence. He blamed the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for causing the bloodshed and forcing Moscow’s hand.
He said it was clear that the warring sides could never again live together, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia had to be independent.
“This is not an easy choice, but it is the only way to save the lives of people,” Mr. Medvedev said in a nationally televised address.
Speaking on a trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the move “regrettable,” The Associated Press reported. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said, during a trip to Estonia: “This is in violation of the principle of territorial integrity, which is one of the basic principles of international law and this is therefore absolutely unacceptable.”
Russia’s stock market, which had already dropped in response to the conflict in Georgia, fell sharply after Mr. Medvedev’s announcement, with the benchmark RTS Index falling nearly 6 percent.
Few countries are likely to join Russia in extending recognition to the two regions and the move is expected to increase strains between Russia and the West.
The Georgian government characterized the Kremlin’s action as a direct challenge to the United States and its European allies.
“This is not just about Georgia, but about relations between Russia and the West,” Georgia’s reintegration minister, Temuri Yakobashvili, said.
However, Mr. Medvedev, referring to the Georgian government in the capital, Tbilisi, said, “It stands quite clear now: a peaceful resolution of the conflict was not part of Tbilisi’s plan.” He went on to hint at what Russia believes was the United States’ encouragement of Georgia.
“The Georgian leadership was methodically preparing for war, while the political and material support provided by their foreign guardians only served to reinforce the perception of their own impunity,” he said.
In recognizing the two territories as independent, Russia was making good on warnings it issued after Western countries recognized the independence of Kosovo, where NATO helped an ethnic Albanian population wrest independence from Serbia.
Russia has few allies closer than Serbia, and the 78-day American-led bombing campaign in 1999 added to a building sense of Russian humiliation.
As president, Vladimir V. Putin — now the Russian prime minister — tried for years to prevent Kosovo from declaring its independence from Serbia. When the Kosovars went ahead, with strong American and European support, last February, Russia seemed ready to respond in kind.
Mr. Medvedev referred to Kosovo during his statement, saying Russia had previously “displayed calm and patience” in its dealings with Georgia.
“We repeatedly called for returning to the negotiating table and did not deviate from this position of ours even after the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence,” he said. “However, our persistent proposals to the Georgian side to conclude agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the non-use of force remained unanswered. Regrettably, they were ignored also by NATO and even at the United Nations.”
Speaking during a trip to the Middle East, Ms. Rice said the move “puts Russia in opposition to the Security Council resolution to which it is a party,” referring to United Nations agreements on Georgia’s territory.
“I think it is regrettable,” she said during a visit to the West Bank, according to the A.P. “Since the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival in the Security Council.”
The NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said Moscow’s move was “in direct violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia’s territorial integrity, resolutions that Russia itself has endorsed.”
“Russia’s actions in recent weeks call into question Russia’s commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus,” he said in a statement.
European diplomats had urged Russia not to formally recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia and reacted angrily Tuesday to the Kremlin’s action.
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said, “We reject this categorically and reaffirm Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to Reuters.
France, as the current president of the European Union, was consulting its partners about adopting a declaration condemning Moscow’s action, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said.
Amid concerns that the frictions in the region might even spread to increased Russian hostility toward Ukraine, Germany is playing a key role as mediator between the states of Western Europe that have called for a moderate approach to Moscow over the crisis, and those from Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia that have called for more assertive responses to Russia’s steps in Georgia.
“The crisis in Georgia has changed the situation in Europe unfortunately in a way that runs counter to our values and convictions,” Mrs. Merkel said Tuesday. She said it was important “to stand beside Ukraine and Georgia,” but added that she “is still for keeping the lines of communication open.”