Russian soldiers adjust a Russian flag in the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali (AFP)
The Kremlin moved swiftly to tighten its grip on Georgia’s breakaway regions yesterday as South Ossetia announced that it would soon become part of Russia, which will open military bases in the province under an agreement to be signed on Tuesday.
Tarzan Kokoity, the province’s Deputy Speaker of parliament, announced that South Ossetia would be absorbed into Russia soon so that its people could live in “one united Russian state” with their ethnic kin in North Ossetia.
The declaration came only three days after Russia defied international criticism and recognised South Ossetia and Georgia’s other separatist region of Abkhazia as independent states. Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia’s leader, agreed that it would form part of Russia within “several years” during talks with Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, in Moscow.
The disclosure will expose Russia to accusations that it is annexing land regarded internationally as part of Georgia. Until now, the Kremlin has insisted that its troops intervened solely to protect South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian “aggression”.
Interfax news quoted an unidentified Russian official as saying that Moscow also planned to establish two bases in Abkhazia. Sergei Shamba, Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister, said that an agreement on military co-operation would be signed within a month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that agreements on “peace, co-operation and mutual assistance with Abkhazia and South Ossetia” were being prepared on the orders of President Medvedev. Abkhazia said that it would ask Russia to represent its interests abroad.
Georgia announced that it was recalling all diplomatic staff from its embassy in Moscow in protest at the continued Russian occupation of its land in defiance of a ceasefire agreement brokered by President Sarkozy of France. The parliament in Tbilisi declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be under Russian occupation.
Gigi Tsereteli, the Vice-Speaker, dismissed the threat of South Ossetia becoming part of Russia, saying: “The world has already become different and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign Georgian territory.
“The regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should think about the fact that if they become part of Russia, they will be assimilated, and in this way they will disappear.”
Lado Gurgenidze, the Prime Minister of Georgia, scrapped agreements that had permitted Russian peacekeepers to operate in the two regions after wars in the early 1990s. He called for their replacement by international troops.
Vyacheslav Kovalenko, Moscow’s Ambassador to Georgia, described Tbilisi’s decision to sever relations as “a step towards further escalation of tensions with Russia and the desire to drive the situation into an even worse deadlock”.
Russia attacked the G7 after the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan condemned its “excessive use of military force in Georgia”. In a joint statement, they had called on Russia to “implement in full” the French ceasefire agreement.
The Foreign Ministry said that the G7 was “justifying Georgian acts of aggression” and insisted that Moscow had met its obligations under the six-point agreement.
Having been rebuffed on Thursday by China and four Central Asian states, Russia will seek support next week from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The CSTO comprises Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The signing of the military agreement with South Ossetia will take place the day after an emergency summit of European Union leaders to discuss the crisis. The French presidency of the EU said that sanctions against Russia were not being considered, contradicting an earlier statement by Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister.
Russia told the EU that any sanctions would be damaging to both sides. Andrei Nesterenko, a Foreign Ministry official, said: “We hope that common sense will prevail over emotions and that EU leaders will find the strength to reject a one-sided assessment of the conflict . . . Neither party needs the confrontation towards which some countries are being energetically pushed by the EU.”
Russia also lashed out at Nato, saying that it had “no moral right” to pass judgment on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Foreign Ministry said: “Further sliding to confrontation with Russia and attempts to put pressure on us are unacceptable, as they can entail irreversible consequences in the military-political climate and in stability on the continent.”
The US confirmed that the flagship of its Sixth Fleet, the USS Mount Whitney, would deliver aid to Georgia next week. Two other warships are moored off Georgia’s Black Sea port of Batumi, and Russia has ordered its fleet to take “precautionary measures”.
Mr Medvedev has accused the US of shipping weapons to Georgia along with aid, a claim dismissed as “ridiculous” by the White House.
Tony Halpin in Moscow
August 30, 2008
Source: The Times