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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

11 March 2008

The Russian Federation’s unilateral withdrawal on 6 March from the decision of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Council of Heads of State on “measures aimed at settling the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia”, created a serious threat of destabilization and undermined the legal framework that determined the peace format of CIS in the conflict zone, the Georgian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, said today.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Mr. Alasania said that the decision had been the basis for allowing Russian peacekeepers to operate in the conflict zone. By the withdrawal, the Russian Federation had unilaterally evaluated the situation in the zone, even though the United Nations-led assessment process for the settlement of the conflict was still in progress. Thus, Russia’s impartiality and credibility had been undermined.

The international community’s attention needed to be focused on the alarming fact that, by withdrawing from that decision, the Russian Federation considered itself no longer obligated to prevent the sale and supply of all kinds of armaments, equipment and ammunitions to the Abkhaz side, he continued. By its withdrawal, the Russian Federation also renounced its responsibility to prevent the enrolment of its citizens into any armed group in the conflict zone. Even before the withdrawal, the Russian Federation had been the primary supplier for the military build-up of the Abkhaz de facto regime.

Mr. Alasania stated that the Russian Federation’s action violated the 1993 Security Council resolution and could be seen as an attempt to legitimize military cooperation with the de facto regime, which was responsible for ethnic cleansing. As a result of that ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to flee the region, with most still unable to return to their homes and property. The sanctions contained in the decision had been designed to influence the Abkhaz side to initiate the process of return of the refugees and internally displaced persons in dignity and safety to the entire territory of Abkhazia. Due to the insecure environment in the conflict zone, only a small part of the expelled population had returned to Gali region of Abkhazia. Thus, Russia’s decision could be considered as an attempt to legitimize ethnic cleansing.

He added that the Russian justification of its action as being in line with the recommendations of the Group of Friends on the easing of CIS embargoes was an attempt to mislead the international community. Those recommendations only suggested adjusting the CIS decision by softening the economic part of the restrictions. Also, although the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had declared that the Abkhaz side had fulfilled all its obligations, in reality, for almost two years, the de facto Abkhaz representatives had refused to engage in meaningful bilateral dialogue with the Georgian side. Moreover, suggesting that recognition of Abkhazia’s independence was an indisputable precondition for political dialogue blocked any possible progress in the conflict settlement process.

Referring to the Russian accusation that Georgia had deployed “an administrative structure accountable to Tbilisi in Kodori Valley”, he noted that Georgia had been permanently fulfilling its direct functions in Abkhazia until 1993. As a result of a legitimate decision of the central Government, in 2006, the administration of the Autonomous Government of Abkhazia had been relocated to the territory from which it had been forced to leave.

Mr. Alasania went on to say that the international community should hold the Russian Federation responsible for any development that occurred in the conflict. He warned that Georgia retained the right to undertake actions under its Constitution and international law to ensure the protection of its national interests.

Responding to questions from correspondents, he said that the secessionist regime in Abkhazia had been declaring that it wanted independence for a long time. However, until the ethnically cleansed segment of the population was able to return to the territory, nobody had the right to decide the political settlement in the region. It was only with the participation of that segment that the future Abkhaz status could be considered. In that regard, the Russian Federation’s official statement was part of the Russian tactic of pressuring Georgia not to be politically independent and not to make decisions based only on its own national interests. Georgia would like to see the bilateral relations with the Russian Federation improve, as it had demonstrated through President Mikheil Saakashvilivisit to Moscow a few weeks ago, when he had met the Russian President.

In answer to another question, he added that there had not been any attempts from the Russian side to link the independence of Kosovo to the recognition of the secessionist regime in Abkhazia. There was a huge difference between the two situations. The new mandate received by President Saakashviliin January and the stepping in of a new President in the Russian Federation next month presented new opportunities for the two countries to engage. The Georgian side intended to pursue that opportunity.

Georgia had not recognised Kosovo because it believed that, in the current circumstances, the territorial integrity principles upheld by most Members of the United Nations should be preserved.

On the upcoming visit of President Saakashvilito the United Nations, he said that Georgia hoped to use it to get the feedback of the Secretary-General with regard to the ongoing review of the settlement process. There were also a lot of issues on the table that Georgia would like to discuss with the Secretary-General, in light of the Kosovo declaration of independence.

Mr. Alasania added that Georgia and the Russian Federation were in touch in New York at the permanent representative level, but no separate consultations were going on concerning the conflict. Georgia did not plan any meeting with the Serbian Foreign Minister while he was in New York. The Georgian Mission to the United Nations was enjoying very fruitful and very cooperative relations with its Russian counterpart.

Turning to the effectiveness of the United Nations in resolving the conflict, he stated that the Organization had not been as effective as had been hoped. After 14 years, progress on internally displaced persons returns was still not there. That was why the review of the settlement process had been initiated about a month and half ago.

He said that the situation in Abkhazia had begun in the early 1990s, when the then Russian political and military elite had backed the secessionist regime, aiding it financially and militarily. The outcome was that the majority of the population had been expelled from the region in 1992 and 1993. The vast majority of the expelled population had still not had the chance to go back.

Mr. Alasania restated Georgia’s commitment to the existing peace format, but said that, by its decision, Russia had torpedoed that format, which allowed peacekeepers to stay in the conflict zone. He added that, if destabilization was on the ground, he did not see how the Sochi Olympics could take place, and that was an event that would benefit both the Russian Federation and Georgia.

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For information media • not an official record

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