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West Steps Up Criticism As Moscow Claims Regional Support For Georgia Actions

August 28, 2008

The diplomatic battle between the West and Moscow over Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is continuing to grow, as France ratcheted up the diplomatic pressure by saying the EU states are considering sanctions on Russia.

Speaking today in Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that "sanctions are being considered, and many other means."

The statement comes ahead of an EU summit scheduled for September 1, at which EU states will seek a united response to Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions.

A day earlier, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the Russia-Georgia cease-fire, reiterated his strong condemnation of Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"The European Union has firmly condemned Russia's unilateral decision to recognize the independence of these two territories [Abkhazia and South Ossetia]. This decision, which presupposes a unilateral change to Georgia's borders, is quite simply unacceptable," Sarkozy said.

Drumming Up Support In Dushanbe

To counter what has become an avalanche of Western criticism, Russia is now seeking support from a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, bringing together leaders from member states Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told reporters in Dushanbe on August 28 that Moscow has backing from the regional grouping for its actions in Georgia, and that that should send a "serious signal" to the West. "We are confident that the position of the SCO member states will have a proper international resonance," Medvedev said. "And I hope it will serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white and justify the aggression that was committed."

However, shortly before Medvedev spoke, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in the Tajik capital that "China expresses concern over the latest developments in the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia."

China is thought to be wary of approving any precedent for breakaway regions for fear of fanning separatist sentiment in its Muslim-populated region of Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Moscow to allow an international probe into Russian allegations of abuses by the Georgian military in South Ossetia.

Steinmeier told the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that Moscow "alleges that atrocities were meted out on the South Ossetian population. Russia or South Ossetia must document whether this is the case and to what extent."

In Vienna, the OSCE is meeting to discuss the security situation in the Caucasus. Georgia's Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili is to address the OSCE’s permanent council, which is the decision-making body of the 56-member organization.

On August 26, the OSCE condemned Russia's decision to recognize separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying it "violates fundamental OSCE principles."

Amid the diplomatic war of words, tensions remain high in Georgia over the continued presence of Russian troops around the key commercial port of Poti.

It remains unclear when the Russian forces will pull back in line with Moscow’s commitment under the cease-fire to return to pre-conflict positions.

The secretary of Georgia's national security council, Alexander Lomaia, said on August 27 that "as a result of international pressure," the Russian troops outside Poti would leave this week and possibly as early as August 28.

However, Russia has not commented on Lomaia's assertion.

The Georgian parliament is expected on August 28 to pass an "occupation act" declaring as officially occupied territory the areas now controlled by what Moscow terms "peacekeepers."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/West_Criticizes_Russia_On_Georgia/1194542.html

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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