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Russia still expects “Georgian aggression”

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, April 7
Moscow “doesn’t have any illusions” concerning Mikheil Saakashvili and considers that the possibility that Georgia will “start new military provocations” exists, says Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, in an interview with Rossiskaya Gazeta published on April 6.

“For a long time, practically the whole period of his [Saakashvili’s] governance, we [the Kremlin] have been trying to establish normal cooperation with Georgia,” states Lavrov. “At the request of Vladimir Putin I visited Tbilisi in early 2005. Following negotiations with Saakashvili we decided to hasten the withdrawal of two Russian military bases on Georgian territory,” he adds. The Russian Foreign Minister notes that this withdrawal was made on condition that the Georgian leadership adopted a law forbidding the deployment of any foreign military bases on Georgian territory, and that despite the fact that Russia has “fulfilled its part of the agreement” Georgia has done nothing. “Already at this point that man [President Saakashvili] showed his inability to negotiate.”

Lavrov also comments on Georgia’s territorial integrity, which Russia was “respecting.” “Before August 8 there were two conflict zones in Georgia, as was recognized by the decisions of the UN and OSCE. Everybody was ready to solve these conflicts by respecting Georgian territorial integrity. President Dmitry Medvedev mentioned this during his meeting with Mikheil Saakashvili on June 6 last year in St. Petersburg. At this meeting the sides agreed to progress the resolution [of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts], particularly the non-aggression agreement of Tbilisi with Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.” However the Russian Minister notes that this peacemaking process was spoiled in the summer of 2008. “In mid June the Georgian side showed its inability to negotiate once again and just stopped answering our appeals. After this the attack on South Ossetia occurred. The quality and quantity of the weapons used there shows that this was not a policing action but a real military operation that transformed into aggression,” states Lavrov.

The Kremlin still is worried about Georgia’s future plans, says Sergey Lavrov “Even today military rhetoric is still current in Tbilisi. We have a serious suspicion that new military provocations are being prepared. It’s a pity, considering this, that some of our friends have started arming the regime of Mikheil Saakashvili,” concludes the Minister.

During the same interview Sergey Lavrov presented a “new world political map” which presents the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. The “new map” is the first printed by the Russian Cartography Institute which takes into account Russia’s decision to recognize these Georgian regions as independent. The map gives these territories different colours to their “bordering neighbours” Russia and Georgia. The decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia was taken by Moscow on August 26 but strongly condemned by the international community. At the most recent NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl on April 4 the bloc appealed to the Russian Government to “reverse its recognition.” Georgia has declared that these territories are “occupied” by Russian troops.

“In criticizing the Georgian Government Russia is not quite honest. Nowadays Saakashvili is vital for the Kremlin,” stated Georgian independent political expert Soso Tsiskarishvili in response to Lavrov’s interview. “The current regime is the best vehicle the Kremlin can use to distract the attention of the local population,” he says, adding that “in reality” neither of the sides expects a restart of the military actions. “Sergey Lavrov has a great habit of making this kind of announcement at an appropriate time. I will not exclude the possibility that this statement may even have been negotiated beforehand with the Georgian side and be designed to strengthen the Georgian Government,” stated Tsiskarishvili, talking to The Messenger on April 6.