Georgia warns Russia against 'annexing' its separatist region

15th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Georgia on Wednesday warned Russia against taking further steps to integrate its separatist region of Abkhazia, saying it would create new security problems in Europe.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" after the leader of the Kremlin-backed rebel statelet on Monday submitted a draft agreement to its local parliament that would dramatically strengthen ties with Moscow.

The agreement on "alliance and integration" would create a "common defence infrastructure" and combined armed forces between Abkhazia and Russia, which already has thousands of troops stationed in the region.

It also calls for the creation of joint law enforcement structures and "common economic and customs space," among other sweeping proposals aimed at deepening the political and economic integration between Russia and Abkhazia.

In a special video address, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on Wednesday he would convene the meeting of his national security council and requested that parliament also look into the issue.

"The agreement is yet another step against Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Margvelashvili said, adding that the proposal threatened Georgia's security.

"The signature of such agreement will negatively affect security in the Black Sea and Caucasus region.

"I call on the international community to promptly and adequately assess the situation and react to this step."

- 'Step towards annexation' -

Georgia's foreign ministry earlier on Wednesday said the implementation of the deal would "create additional problems" for the European security.

"We hope that the Russian authorities will refrain from signing this so-called agreement, otherwise it will be considered as a step towards annexation of Abkhazia with subsequent legal consequences," it added in a statement.

Georgian foreign minister Maia Panjikidze told reporters separately that Georgian officials should raise the issue during upcoming talks with Russian diplomats in Prague on Thursday.

There was no immediate reaction from Moscow.

Russia is already at loggerheads with the West after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March and its support for separatist fighters in the former Soviet country's eastern belt.

The draft agreement also proved controversial in the separatist region, with many Abkhaz lawmakers saying the proposal would be a blow to the statelet's de-facto independence and therefore should not be adopted in its current version.

"If Russia or Abkhazia declares martial law does it mean that combined forces in Abkhazia automatically take up arms and Moscow assumes command?" wrote prominent blogger Akhra Smyr.

A lush sun-drenched coastal strip of land wedged between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after a civil war in the 1990s following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

It is home to some 240,000 people and is heavily dependent on Russian aid.

Several thousand people were killed and some 250,000, mostly ethnic Georgians, were forced out of Abkhazia in the 1990s conflict, that saw Moscow-backed Abkhaz separatists battle against the central government in Tbilisi.

Moscow officially recognised the independence of Abkhazia and another separatist region of South Ossetia after fighting a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008.

After the war Moscow stationed thousands of troops in the two separatist regions in a move condemned by Tbilisi and its Western allies as an illegal occupation.

© 2014 AFP

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