Sarkozy to demand Russian pullout from Georgia
French President Nicola Sarkozy led an EU delegation to Moscow on Monday to ramp up pressure on Russia to withdraw troops from Georgia.8 September 2008
BARVIKHA -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy led an EU delegation to Moscow on Monday to ramp up pressure on Russia to withdraw troops from Georgia a month after it went to war with its ex-Soviet neighbour.
Russia has been accused of not honouring the accord that Sarkozy brokered to end the war and has since infuriated the West by recognising the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions at the heart of the conflict.
Sarkozy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner went straight to the Russian presidential retreat at Barvikha, outside the capital.
They held talks there with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and were to head later to Tbilisi to meet Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, with whom Russia has refused direct contact since the conflict erupted on 8 August.
"A tense month has passed during which all necessary efforts have been undertaken to conform strictly with the Medvedev/Sarkozy plan," the Russian president said as the talks got under way.
"But there have been other important events. Russia has recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There are certain new approaches in the way we have to move forward," he added without elaborating.
Moscow argues that its remaining presence in Georgia - thought to be a few thousand troops - is in line with the peace agreement which foresaw "additional security measures" by Russia in the conflict zone.
But Georgia, whose army was routed by the Russians after launching an ill-fated assault to regain control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, views the leftover troops as an occupying force and accused Russia on Monday of deploying more troops.
"The Russian occupation force is reinforcing, rather than vacating, its checkpoints near the strategic commercial port of Poti," a Georgian government statement said.
French officials said Sarkozy would press for: the deployment of an EU observer mission in Georgia; a timetable for Russia's withdrawal; and international talks on the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia says it will only pull its troops out of areas surrounding the rebel regions once international controls, including observers and police, are in place to prevent another Georgian attack.
It also wants Georgia to sign a non-aggression pact and insists that Georgian troops have not yet returned to their own bases, one of the six terms laid out in the ceasefire document.
Western countries have said Russia is in breach of the accord, urging Moscow to pull out immediately, and have strongly condemned Medvedev's move on 26 August to unilaterally recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The conflict has plunged relations between Russia and the West to a tense post-Cold War low, with an angry war of words developing between Russia and the United States.
On a tour of American allies in the region last week, US Vice-President Dick Cheney accused Russia of using "brutality" and trying to redraw the map of Georgia.
Russia has countered by accusing the US of involvement in Georgia's attack on South Ossetia and says Washington has been re-arming the Georgian military since the conflict.
Russia's military surged into Georgia in August, with Moscow arguing they were protecting tens of thousands of residents granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the USSR.
Hundreds of people on both sides are estimated to have been killed in the conflict, which wrought extensive destruction on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. Tens of thousands have also been forced to flee their homes.
Georgia accused Russia before the UN's highest court in The Hague on Monday of conducting a long-running campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in Georgian territory.
"Ethnic Georgians have been targeted and forcibly expelled from these regions... and denied the right to return for more than a decade," counsel James Crawford argued at the International Court of Justice.
"There has been burning of houses, murder of civilians, looting of property," he added.
Russia has not responded publicly to the Georgian application but says Georgia committed "genocide" with its assault on Tskhinvali.
[AFP / Expatica]