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Russia Recognizes Abkhazia, South Ossetia

August 26, 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Russia recognizes Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

The pledge comes after a resolution calling on President Medvedev to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia sailed through both houses of the Russian parliament on August 25.

"Taking into consideration the free expression of the will of the Ossetian and Abkhaz people, guided by the provisions of the UN Charter, by the 1970 Declaration On Principles Of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other basic international documents, I have signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of South Ossetia and the independence of Abkhazia," Medvedev said in a televised speech to the nation, delivered from his summer residence in Sochi, just along the Black Sea coast from Abkhazia.

The lower house, the State Duma, approved a second resolution on August 25 calling on parliaments worldwide to back independence for the separatist provinces.

Russia's Security Council met in Sochi today in an emergency session to discuss the situation.

Residents of Abkhazia fired into the air, opened bottles of champagne, and wept on hearing the news. In Sukhumi, the Abkhaz capital, office workers spilled into the streets.

"We feel happy. We all have tears in our eyes. We feel pride for our people," Aida Gubaz, a 38-year-old lawyer, told Reuters. "Everything we went through, now we are getting our reward."

In the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, some 500 people gathered in the central square to celebrate. The air was filled with the deafening roar of people firing Kalashnikov rifles and antique hunting rifles, Reuters reports. Other people were waving the flags of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, hugging each other, and chanting, "Long live South Ossetia."

'Absolutely Unacceptable'

The United States had warned against recognition. In a statement on August 25, U.S. President George W. Bush said recognition would represent a violation of UN resolutions. He also said it would undermine the cease-fire that halted the brief war that broke out between Georgia and Russia after Georgian forces invaded South Ossetia on August 7 after days of exchanging mortar and small-arms fire.

"I am deeply concerned by today's [August 25] appeal to President Medvedev by Russia's Federation Council and Duma, the upper and lower houses of Russia's parliament, to recognize the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries," Bush said. "I call on Russia's leadership to meet its commitments and not recognize these separatist regions.

Bush also reiterated Washington's support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the main bone of contention between Moscow and the West following the cease-fire. While withdrawing most of its troops as called for in the agreement, Moscow has left some of its troops in Georgia proper.

David Merkel, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, reiterated the president's message during an interview with RFE/RL's Moldova Service on August 26.

"This is something that President Bush has spoken on, and he called on Russia's leadership to meet its commitments and not to recognize these separatist regions. The United States, the EU, NATO all see great importance in recognizing Georgia's territorial integrity," Merkel said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also strongly condemned Russia's move, saying Moscow's decision was "absolutely unacceptable."

"This contradicts principles of territorial integrity as a fundamental right," she added in a speech during a visit to the Baltic state of Estonia.

Alexander Stubb, the head of Europe's top human rights and security body, the Organizationi for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Russia's recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia "violates fundamental OSCE principles. Russia should follow OSCE principles by respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia."

France, which brokered the cease-fire agreement, has called a meeting of EU leaders to be held on September 1. The following day, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to Tbilisi in a show of support for Georgia.

NATO Relationship

Meanwhile, in Moscow today Russian Ambassador to NATO Rogozin is expected to comment on Russia's deteriorating relationship with the Western military alliance.

Rogozin on August 25 accused NATO of applying "double standards" on Russia and of departing from the "spirit of the partnership."

Tensions have heightened further between the two powers with the growing presence of U.S. and Russian warships on the Black Sea. Two U.S. ships, including a destroyer, carrying humanitarian aid were heading for the port city of Poti, which still harbors a Russian military presence despite being outside the cease-fire's "buffer zone." RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Tea Absaridze, who is blogging every day from Poti, says Russian troops have attacked locals and engaged in widespread looting in the town.

The deputy head of the Russian military's General Staff, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who has previously questioned the nature of U.S. humanitarian aid, commented on the situation during a news conference in Moscow today.

"The actions of Russian troops in the conflict zone are directed at the unconditional fulfillment of the obligations that were made. And that's why the excessive level of activity of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea -- that continues to increase its groupings in the area -- is a cause for bewilderment," Nogovitsyn said.

Nogovitsyn also said ships of Russia's Black Sea Fleet dropped anchor today off the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi, with the task of taking "personnel, armaments, and military gear aboard and to transport them to Russia." Earlier, Russian media had reported that Russian Naval ships, including the fleet's flagship, the guided-missile cruiser "Moskva," were conducting routine naval exercises on the sea.


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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