Medvedev defends Georgia move

28th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

There is nearly universal criticism of Russia’s move to recognize the independence of the two breakaway Georgian republics.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev defended the diplomatic recognition of breakaway Georgian regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Wednesday as NATO repeated its demand for the decision to be reversed.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy urged Moscow to adhere fully to the ceasefire agreement reached with Georgia as the West stepped up its pressure on the Kremlin leader.

Medvedev told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that his country was adhering to the six-point plan agreed with Sarkozy last week to defuse tensions in the volatile Caucasus region, the Kremlin said.

Merkel disagreed and repeated her criticism of Russia's action, a German government spokesman reported, after the two leaders discussed the issue over the telephone Wednesday morning.

The chancellor saw the continuing Russian presence in Georgia outside the two regions where the two sides fought a brief war in mid-August as a serious contravention of the six-point plan.

"I made clear that I would have expected that one would discuss the issue in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or in the UN Security Council before unilateral recognition," Merkel said.

Speedy withdrawal, please

Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, urged Russia to carry out a speedy withdrawal of its troops to the positions they were at before the outbreak of hostilities.

"Russia's unilateral decision to redraw the borders of Georgia is unacceptable," said Sarkozy, who has called a special EU summit on Georgia for Sept. 1.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned Russia not to start a new Cold War, and suggested the European Union and NATO should review their relations with Moscow.

"Russia is not yet reconciled to the new map of this region," he said. "The Russian president says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don't want one. He has a big responsibility not to start one."

Miliband said the EU and NATO should respond to such "aggression" with "hard-headed engagement," and suggested the EU and NATO needed to review relations with Russia.

A violation

NATO called on Russia to reverse its recognition of the independence, warning Moscow that Georgia's security and stability were "important" to the alliance.

"Russia's decision violates the many UN Security Council resolutions it has endorsed regarding Georgia's territorial integrity, and is inconsistent with the fundamental OSCE principles on which stability in Europe is based," said a statement released by the North Atlantic Council, consisting of ambassadors of NATO's 26 member states.

The European Union is to send a fact-finding mission as close to Georgia's conflict zones as possible in order to assess the practicalities of sending ceasefire monitors to the region, officials in Brussels said.

The OSCE is to discuss sending up to 100 addition observers to Georgia at a meeting in Vienna on Thursday attended by Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili.

In an article published in the Financial Times, Medvedev called Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "a madman" and issued a thinly veiled call for him resign.

"I sincerely hope that the Georgian people ... will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus," he wrote.

Medvedev compared the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with that in Kosovo, accusing western countries of rushing to recognize Kosovo's "illegal declaration of independence" from Serbia in February this year.

Black Sea confrontation

Meanwhile, elements of Russia's Black Sea fleet shifted locations on Wednesday in an possible move to avoid a confrontation with a growing NATO warship flotilla near Georgia.

Russian naval vessels operating off of Georgia's coastline had moved from a station in the vicinity of the Georgian port Poti into "Abkhazian territorial waters," said Sergei Menialo, commander of Russia's Novorossisk naval base, according to an Interfax news agency report.

The shift took a group of about six to eight Russian warships that had been patrolling near the Georgian port of Poti out of the path of US warships reportedly planning to make a humanitarian aid delivery to the same location.

American officials said elements of the US 6th Fleet would bring humanitarian aid to Poti for delivery to Georgian refugees from the Russo-Georgian war.

The announcement put Washington on track for a Cold War-style naval confrontation with Moscow, as elements of Russia's Black Sea fleet have been enforcing a partial blockade on Poti since early August.

NATO led by the US began a dramatic increase to its naval presence in the Black Sea in mid-August, after Russian refusal to abide by a Russo-Georgian ceasefire plan engineered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The agreement among other conditions obliged all Russian and Georgian forces to return to pre-war positions -- a stipulation the Kremlin has in some cases ignored.

Russian forces landed in early August near Poti now conduct patrols into the port and continue hold road checkpoints inland. The Russian occupation has made impossible most sea shipments between Georgia and the rest of the world.

Russian admiral Sergei Kasatonov admitted the growing NATO naval formation would soon be stronger than the Russian Black Sea warships off Georgia and Abkhazia's shore but added the Kremlin could in case of a confrontation deal with the western vessels "using other forms of combat power, including aviation assets."

Kasatonov's comments made in Moscow were among the first public statements by a top Russian official of possible naval combat between Russian and NATO forces in the Black Sea.

The motivation for the increasing NATO naval presence in the region was "primarily political and not military," he added.


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