Georgie cries foul as Russia shifts border


Georgia yesterday (21 January) condemned Russia for expanding its border deeper into Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia that Moscow has recognized as an independent country since 2008.

Russia's Winter Olympics city of Sochi is next to Abkhazia.

Georgian diplomats said that Russia shifted its border with Georgia 11 kilometres deeper into Abkhazia, calling it an "illegal action" that violates Georgia's sovereignty.

Georgia has had no diplomatic relations with Russia since the two former Soviet republics fought a brief war in August 2008 and is not sending a government delegation to the games, although it will let its sportsmen compete as a goodwill gesture.

"The Georgian Foreign Ministry calls on the Russian Federation to stop provocative policy against Georgia and to live up to its international commitments, envisaged under the provisions of the (2008) cease-fire agreement," the ministry said in a statement.

"Georgia's territorial integrity is 'a red line' that Tbilisi will never cross in its relationship with Moscow," Maya Panjikidze, Georgia's foreign minister, told reporters.

The Russian government did not respond immediately, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia was not going to review its decision over recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Attempts to make progress in our political ties conditional to Russia's reversal of recognition of those realities have no prospect and are counterproductive and fruitless," Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov.

Georgia held out an olive branch to Russia last week by offering to help it guarantee security at the Winter Olympics, although details remained unclear.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has put troops on combat alert in Sochi because of threats by Islamist militants to attack the games, which open on 7 February.

Despite the political tensions, the Georgian government decided last year not to boycott the games.

Russia last year lifted bans on imports of Georgian wine, mineral water and fruit that it imposed in 2006, but tensions remain high. Tbilisi has said it wants to deepen ties with the West although it is also trying to improve ties with Moscow.

Georgia is strategically important for Europe, which gets Caspian gas and oil from pipelines that run through the country of 4.5 million.

Georgia hopes eventually to join the European Union and NATO, although both are distant prospects. Moscow still regards Georgia, and most other former Soviet republics, as part of its sphere of influence.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August 2008. The conflict saw Russian troops repel an assault on the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which broke free from Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.

Russia later recognised South Ossetia and Georgia's second breakaway region of Abkhazia as independent states. Russia has thousands of troops stationed in both regions. 

Vladimir Putin, then the prime minister of Russia, was quoted at the time by a French diplomat as saying that he wanted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hanged. 

Privately, EU representatives generally recognise that Saakashvili was to blame for the August war. Saakashvili in no longer president, but he still enjoys Western support as a symbol of the 2003 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia.

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