Recognizing Georgia's Rebel Regions West Voices Dismay at Russia's 'Unacceptable' Move

Despite the pleas and warnings from the West, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev went ahead and recognized the independence of the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Tuesday. It looks as if Moscow is courting isolation.

Russia's relationship with the West was already straining under the ongoing crisis in the Caucasus. Now, though, the situation has become even more tense. Despite repeated pleas from the United States and Europe, President Dmitry Medvedev announced on Tuesday that he was recognizing the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"This is not an easy choice but this is the only chance to save people's lives," Medevdev said in a televised address the day after Russia's Kremlin-loyal parliament voted unanimously to recognize the two separatist regions, both of which have run their own affairs since wars with Tbilisi in the early 1990s.

The statement comes as Russian troops remain on the ground in Georgia proper, breaking the terms of the peace deal between Georgia and Russia. The cease-fire, brokered by France, ended a five-day war that broke out after Tbilisi sent troops in to wrest back control of breakaway South Ossetia on the night of August 7. Russia reacted with an overwhelming military counter-attack pushing deep into Georgia, a key Western ally in the region and a major transit corridor for oil and gas.

On Tuesday Medvedev said that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had chosen "genocide to fulfil his political plans," adding that Georgia had wanted to achieve its goal "to absorb South Ossetia by eliminating a whole nation."

The Russian move was swiftly met with sharp Western criticism, revealing the dismay with which Europe and the United States have watched Moscow fail to be swayed by any international threats. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the decision "completely unacceptable" while France expressed its deep regret and reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia. A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said: "We reject this categorically and reaffirm Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the fact that Russia's leadership "has now chosen this route means they have chosen a policy of confrontation, not only with the rest of Europe, but also with the international community in general."

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Moscow's decision "extremely unfortunate" and said that Washington continued to regard Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia." She added that the US would use its veto power on the United Nations Security Council to block any Russian attempt to change the status of the two provinces.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer likewise voiced his disapproval of the Russian announcement. "This is in direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia's territorial integrity, resolutions that Russia itself has endorsed," he said in a statement read by his spokeswoman. "Russia's actions in recent weeks call into question Russia's commitment to peace in the Caucasus."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said "we firmly condemn" the Russian decision to recognize the independence of the two provinces.

Georgia itself lashed out at Moscow's decision, with the state minister for integration, Timur Yakobashvili, telling the Associated Press that the recognition had "no legal status." He said that Russia was "trying to legalize the result of an ethnic cleansing that it has conducted. But it will result in Russia's isolation from the rest of the world."

The move has certainly upset the markets, with Russian stocks falling to their lowest level in two years directly after Medvedev's announcement, as traders worried about rising tensions in the region.

Masha Lipman, an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank said that the decision is likely to lead to the further diplomatic isolation of Russia. Speaking to the Associated Press, she said that it was an "indication that Russia has opted for further aggravation in relations with the West, and a very serious rift this time."

smd -- with wire reports


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