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>> The Financial Times


DUMA BACKS SOUTH OSSETIA INDEPENDENCE

The Financial Times - August 26, 2008 by Charles Clover in Moscow and Isabel Gorst in Tbilisi Russia moved a step closer to breaking up Georgia and throwing down a gauntlet to Nato, as both houses of parliament in Moscow on Monday voted overwhelmingly to recognise the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The vote, however, has no force unless and until the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, endorses it, and the Kremlin on Monday said only that Mr Medvedev was studying the resolution. Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said that any attempt to isolate his country economically over its actions in Georgia would achieve little. President George W Bush later said he was ”deeply concerned” by the Russian parliamentary votes. ”I call on Russia’s leadership to meet its commitments and not recognise these separatist regions,” he said in a statement, arguing that recognition would be inconsistent with United Nations Security Council Resolutions Russia had consistently supported. ”Georgia’s territorial integrity and borders must command the same respect as every other nation’s, including Russia’s,” he said. The US and others have raised the possibility of blocking Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organisation. Russia is now the largest economy not to belong to the WTO. But Mr Putin said on Monday that WTO membership was something Moscow would gladly do without. “We don’t feel or see any advantages from membership, if they exist at all” in the WTO, he told a press conference. Independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia would mean the loss of considerable territory for Georgia, and is a very emotional issue in Tbilisi. Giga Bokeria, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, said the resolution, if adopted by the Russian government, would be “a continuation of Russian aggression against Georgia and a serious violation of international law”. In a show of support for Georgia, the US announced on Monday that Dick Cheney, the vice-president, would be visiting the country next week. The trip, which will also include Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Italy, will begin on September 2. Russia would be the first to recognise the de facto independent enclaves, which have been demanding independence and have had their own governments and constitutions since winning civil wars against Tbilisi in the early 1990s. Experts say it is unlikely that the Kremlin will take action immediately on the parliamentary resolutions, but that the votes were a way to increase pressure on Georgia’s government, and increase Russia’s negotiating clout with Nato as the conflict in Georgia moves from a military one to a political one. Vyacheslav Nikonov, an influential Russian political commentator, said: “It seems to me that it would be more profitable to let the situation hang . . . De jure recognition is a unique political trump card, an instrument which is best left unused in this situation . . . I think that hurrying on this decision is simply not warranted.” It is not clear how many states would join Moscow in recognising the breakaway enclaves. “The only countries that are going to go along with it are North Korea, for example, or Venezuela,” said Alexei Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Moscow Centre think-tank. Instead of Kosovo, which declared independence earlier this year and was immediately recognised by western nations, experts instead draw a parallel with Turkey’s invasion and recognition of northern Cyprus in 1974-75, which continues to be isolated internationally. Georgia’s government, after losing the recent war to Russia, is in no position to bargain, and Russia may try to use the emotional issue of recognition of the two enclaves as a tool to get Tbilisi to renounce membership in Nato, which it has requested, or to press President Mikheil Saakashvili to step down. The vote was also intended to display Russia’s new determination to control the destinies of countries in the post-Soviet space, and keep Nato’s influence to a minimum. The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Boris Gryzlov, said of the vote: “Russia’s historic role of the guarantor of peace in the Caucasus has increased . . . The Caucasus has always been and will remain the zone of Russia’s strategic interests.” While Russia builds pressure on the west with the potential recognition of the enclaves in Georgia, western nations have been dangling Russia’s potential membership in the WTO as an incentive to return to the international fold. Washington argues that the arrival into the conflict zone of 20 monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe means that Russia no longer has the right or the need to deploy troops outside South Ossetia or Abkhazia. The ceasefire agreement allows Russia to carry out “additional security measures” before an “international mechanism” is put into practice. “They are still not in compliance with the ceasefire agreement,” said Robert Wood, a state department spokesman. “Our goal is to get 100 OSCE monitors in there as soon as we can; we are in the process of having 20 get on the ground in the area.”





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