Russia recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia slams

Russia has recognized the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent, President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday, a move that Washington said regrettable. Georgia slammed the decision, while NATO said it is unacceptable. (UPDATED)

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Medvedev announced the recognition after meeting top ministers and defense chiefs on the Georgia crisis, ignoring warnings from Western powers against the move.   

"I have signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of South Ossetia and the independence of Abkhazia," Medvedev said in a televised announcement.

"Russia calls on other states to follow its example," he added.

The Russian president said his decision was made "taking into account the freely expressed will of the Ossetian and Abkhaz people" and was in accordance with the United Nations charter and a 1970 declaration on international law.

"This is not an easy choice, but it is the only way to save the lives of people," Medvedev said.

He said Russia had demonstrated "restraint and patience" in its relationship with Georgia and had repeatedly sought to resolve the dispute over the breakaway regions through negotiations.

"But our insistent proposals to the Georgian side to reach an agreement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the renunciation of force remained unanswered.

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Unfortunately, they were ignored also by NATO and the U.N.," Medvedev added.

Russia is to establish diplomatic ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and sign partnership pacts with them, according to two decrees signed on Tuesday by Medvedev.

The decrees ordered the Russian foreign ministry to establish diplomatic relations with the two entities and draft friendship and cooperation treaties.

The decrees also ordered Russia's defense ministry to maintain peace in Abkhazia and South Ossetia until the treaties were signed.

Medvedev's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states amounts to an annexation by Moscow of Georgian territory, Georgia's deputy foreign minister said on Tuesday.

"This is an unconcealed annexation of these territories, which are a part of Georgia," said Giga Bokeria was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Russia’s decision "has no legal force" and will lead to "harsh political consequences" for Russia, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Alexander Lomaia told AFP.

The leaders of the Georgian rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia  hailed Russia’s decision to recognize their independence as an "historic" step, Interfax news agency reported.

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"This is an historic day for our people. I am grateful to the Russian leadership and Russian people for this great step taken today on recognizing Abkhazia’s independence," Interfax quoted Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh as saying.

"This is a great day in the history of our country and our people. Russia saved us from genocide and gave us the opportunity to develop and live in our land," South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said.

NATO rejected Russia’s decision, calling the move a violation of U.N. resolutions on Georgia’s territorial integrity.

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"I reject the decision of the Russian government to extend recognition to the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia," military alliance Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement.

"This is in direct violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia’s territorial integrity, resolutions that Russia itself has endorsed," he said.

"Russia’s actions in recent weeks call into question Russia’s commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus. NATO firmly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and calls on Russia to respect these principles," he said.

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Russia’s ambassador to NATO also announced that Moscow was suspending cooperation with NATO as well as a visit by Scheffer.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday said it was "regrettable" that Russia formally recognized the rebel Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent.

"Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia and are going to remain so," Rice said.

"As to the Russian apparent intention to recognize two parts ... I think it is regrettable," she said at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah after holding talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

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"It puts Russia of course in opposition to a number of Security Council resolutions to which it is party. "It simply means that the Russian president continues not to honor the commitments that the Russians have signed onto," Rice said.

"The ceasefire also talked about the importance of moving forward to an international way to deal with these sorts of conflicts, so to preempt those international discussions is extremely unfortunate," said Rice who wrapped up a 24-hour visit to Israel and the West Bank.

The two houses of Russia's parliament adopted non-binding resolutions on Monday urging Medvedev to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and the second Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia.

Before Tuesday's recognition, U.S. President George W. Bush said he was deeply concerned by the parliamentary votes. He urged Russia's leaders not to recognize the regions, which broke with Tbilisi after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as independent.

Russian tanks and troops poured into South Ossetia on Aug. 8 after Georgia launched a barrage against the breakaway region's capital. Russian forces then drove deep into Georgia proper.

Russia has pulled out the bulk of its forces, but it has alarmed the West by stationing some troops deep inside Georgia's heartland on what it has called a peacekeeping mission.

The West says the troops give Moscow a stranglehold over vital ports and transport links and are a breach of a ceasefire deal. Georgia hosts a Western-backed oil pipeline which supplies about one percent of the world's crude.

Russian lawmakers have said Medvedev should recognize the two regions because they had a stronger claim to independence than Kosovo from Serbia and could no longer live within a state that sent in soldiers to try to restore its control.

Under Russian law, it is the prerogative of the president and not parliament to recognize foreign states.

Medvedev warned ex-Soviet Moldova on Monday against repeating Georgia's mistake of trying to use force to seize back control of a breakaway region.

Russia sent peacekeepers to Moldova in the early 1990s to end a conflict between Chisinau and its breakaway Transdniestria region and is trying to mediate a deal between the two sides.

"After the Georgian leadership lost their marbles, as they say, all the problems got worse and a military conflict erupted," Medvedev told Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin at a meeting at the Russian leader's Black Sea coastal residence at Sochi.

"This is a serious warning for us all. It is in this context that we should view the question of Transdniestria resolution," the Russian leader said.

Russia is currently trying to forge a deal between Chisinau and Transdniestrian separatists which would keep the rebel region as part of Moldova but give it broad autonomy.

The Russian-brokered deal would also allow Transdniestria to leave Moldova should the former Soviet state decide to join their ethnic kin in EU member Romania.

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