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Recognition raises the stakes

By David Matsaberidze
Friday, August 29
Following the statement by President Medvedev that Russia acknowledges the “independence” of the two breakaway regions of Georgia and supports them, the international situation remains very tense. The world is on the verge of a new cold war. Russia is not afraid of international isolation and open confrontation and sends challenging messages to the rest of the world. Western diplomats, while expressing concerns over the “impossibility” of the maintenance of previous relations with Russia, hope that any new relationship will be no more adversarial than a “cold” war and talk about the possibility of creating a new bloc against Russia.

Georgian government officials have begun to reconfigure their ties with Russia. Georgia “has to minimize” its diplomatic relations with its neighbour following Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nino Kalandadze, the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, told journalists on August 27, stressing that Georgia will be represented in Russia by only two diplomats – the Acting Ambassador and an Advisor. Temur Iakobashvili, the Minister for Reintegration, states that diplomatic relations with Russia should reduce considerably, although the acknowledges the necessity “to remain within civilized norms and not to start throwing stones,” so as not to harm Georgians living in Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met Givi Shugarov, the Acting Georgian Ambassador in Moscow, on August 27, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported. “During the meeting, urgent issues of bilateral Russo-Georgian relations, mainly of a humanitarian nature, were discussed. The importance of maintaining working contacts through diplomatic channels, including the embassies of the two countries, was also discussed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a press release, as Civil Georgia reports.

The Georgian Parliament has declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be occupied territories and has created an inter-party group which will introduce appropriate amendments to the constitution of the country. The Russian decision has termed an “alarming precedent” by most countries, which is a warning that Russia’s actions will not be supported. The international isolation of Russia which will logically follow from the statements of the international community is what Georgia is striving to achieve. So far the only organisations of any kind supporting Russia’s step are the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organisations, which form part of the government of the Palestinian Authority, which termed the recognition as “a precedent which may lead to the solution of our own concerns”. The Government of Georgia however has decided to file a case against the Russian government in the International Criminal Court, accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing, genocide and the annexation of territories. The Georgian Minister of Reintegration is sure that Russia will lose this case.

A joint statement of the G7 Foreign Ministers (those of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom) condemns the Russian Federation's actions, including the invasion of Georgia and the undermining of its authority over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which put Russia’s professed commitment to safeguarding peace and security in the Caucasus in question, and called on the Kremlin to fully implement the six-point peace plan. Germany appears to be the most positive of the G7 countries from a Georgian point of view, with its Chancellor Angela Merkel calling on the country to “send military observers to Georgia” as its cabinet has now agreed to do. The German Foreign Minister states that 15 German observers will be sent to Georgia as part of the OSCE mission. Walter Steinmeier hopes that nobody will hinder the work of military observers in the conflict regions and they will be able to prepare a report about the situation on the ground, which the European Union will receive. Switzerland is also sending 8 military observers to Georgia as part of the same OSCE mission.

The German Chancellor has also reiterated her calls for the need to observe the six-point agreement, stressing that “the prolonged presence of the Russian [forces] in Georgia, outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example in Poti, represents a serious violation of the agreement,” a German government press release states, also denouncing Russia’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as inconsistent with UN Security Council resolutions and the six-point ceasefire agreement. As a response to this statement the Kremlin has offered “an in-depth explanation” by phone of how Russia has fulfilled the fifth point of the agreement, as requested by Germany, but the Germans have declared this “explanation” unsatisfactory and reiterated that Russia must respect the six point agreement.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken directly with President Medvedev. “The Russian side stressed the need for Tbilisi to carry out point four of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, under which all Georgian troops should be returned to the places of their permanent location, and emphasized Russia’s principled position on the need to urgently resolve the security issues of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the Kremlin stated after this conversation, but President Sarkozy, who brokered the ceasefire accord between Tbilisi and Moscow, has again said on August 27 that the agreement “must be applied in full.” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has condemned Russia's actions with regard to Georgia and accused Russia of breaking international law. “Russian troops were about to `ethnically cleanse` the South Ossetia town of Akhalgori, which is populated by ethnic Georgians. This is not acceptable”, he stressed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on August 27 that Beijing was “concerned with the latest developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia … although expressing hope that the relevant parties can resolve the issue through dialogue and consultation.” The US remains extremely active in the diplomatic conflict over deteriorating Georgian-Russian relations. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood has stated that, “We want to see Russia adhere to its obligations. The declaration that was accepted by the Russians is unacceptable and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, being inconsistent with UN Security Council resolutions that Russia has agreed to”. US Vice President Dick Cheney has also once again slammed the Russian incursion into Georgia, stating that “a young democracy has been subjected to an unjustified assault”.

On August 27 South Ossetia handed over to the Georgian authorities the bodies of 43 Georgian soldiers. Two bodies had been handed over to the South Ossetian side the previous day. MP Givi Targamadze, the Georgian negotiator dealing with the matter, said a few days ago that the most difficult aspects of the process would be securing the release of civilians held by individual South Ossetian militias and searching for missing persons. According to the latest Georgian government data, dated August 25, 216 people have been killed on the Georgian side in the conflict, 143 military and 73 civilian. Three journalists (two Georgian and one Dutch) were also killed in the conflict.

On August 28 the Georgian and South Ossetian sides exchanged another group of detainees, mostly civilians. The process was mediated by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg. 85 Georgians who had been held in a Tskhinvali police station, were released in exchange for 13 people the Georgian authorities had detained. As a result, Hammarberg said late on Wednesday evening, all Georgian detainees held in the Tskhinvali police station were now free.

Alexandre Lomaia, the Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, expects Russian troops to pull out of the port of Poti in the next few days. “There is huge [international] pressure on Russia to immediately pull out from Poti,” he told Rustavi 2 TV late on August 27. “We expect that [a withdrawal from Poti] to take place in the nearest future,” Lomaia stressed.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari has called on Rustavi 2 to immediately stop airing a “Russophobic” music video containing elements of “hate speech.” Late on the evenings of August 26 and 27 after its primetime news programme a video of a song called Russia 2008, performed by a Georgian singer in the Russian language, was broadcast. The song describes Russia as “a country of freaks,” which “is looting everything, even looting toilet seats.” It also contains the following words: "You [referring to Russians] are the killers of the Tsar… and you will drown in blood… [swear words follow].” It also says “you are all skinheads.” “The lyrics of the song are extremely insulting towards the Russian people,” the Public Defender said in a statement on August 27. “It represents an alarming example of the expression of ethnic hatred and xenophobia, and broadcasting this video can be regarded as an obvious attempt at inciting ethnic hatred,” Civil Georgia reports.