Western leaders reacted angrily after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ignored their pleas and signed a decree recognising the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – a move condemned by the EU as a breach of international law.
While a defiant Medvedev said he was not frightened by the “prospect of a new Cold War” after his approval of the independence of the two separatist states, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner retorted in a television interview for France2: “If it is cold, it is not that worrying. We are afraid of a war.”
Medvedev’s move surprised both Western politicians and commentators and was seen as a signal of Russia’s determination to reassert its authority around its borders. Major newspapers (Le Monde and La Croix in France, for instance) had predicted that Medvedev would not sign the decree because it was “in Russia’s interest to keep uncertainty” around the breakaway regions. Speaking just one day before Medvedev’s announcement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also said she did not believe that the Russian President would approve the independence of the Georgian regions.
While Western leaders condemned Russia’s move and US President George Bush urged Moscow to reconsider its “irresponsible decision”, Medvedev insisted the move was “based on international law,” invoking the Kosovo precedent as a complicating factor for other frozen conflicts.
But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner accused Russia of obviously failing to accept the borders which it inherited from Gorbachev and Yeltsin and spoke of Western fears that Russian troops may carry out ethnic cleansing in the area. Talking over a map of Georgia, he said: “This is the map of Ossetia. This is a city named Akhlagori. They say that tonight Russian troops will carry out ethnic cleansing and push the Georgian population towards Georgia so that this piece of Ossetia be homogeneous.”
Russian generals see Black Sea buildup
In the meantime, Russian generals questioned the “extreme level” of NATO naval activity in the Black Sea. “We’re bewildered by the extreme level of activity of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea, which continue to increase their numbers,” General Anatoly Nogovitsyn told a briefing on the conflict.
“Only yesterday I said there were nine NATO ships in the sea and by evening another frigate of the US navy passed through the Bosphorus Straits. We have also learnt that another eight warships from NATO states are expected shortly. They talk about planned exercises and you can probably find some legitimacy in that but […] it’s very hard to believe that all the visits so far have been bringing only humanitarian aid,” said Nogovitsyn.
Russia freezes peacekeeping with NATO
Russia has suspended all peacekeeping operations with NATO for at least six months, the Russian envoy to the military alliance said on Tuesday.
“As the alliance’s leadership has ignored the important peacekeeping role of Russia in the Caucasus and South Ossetia, we believe it is expedient to suspend all peacekeeping operations between Russia and NATO for at least six months,” Dmitry Rogozin said.
However, the diplomat stressed that Russia was not opting out of political dialogue with NATO.
Preparing a difficult summit
As the EU prepares for an extraordinary summit on September 1 over Georgia and Russia (EURACTIV 25/08/08), France, as the current EU presidency holder, was consulting its partners about adopting a declaration condemning Moscow’s actions. At the same time, EU countries said they were waiting for French leadership.
“Germany is waiting for proposals from its French counterparts on how to proceed,” a German diplomat told EURACTIV.
In the Czech Republic, which is due to take over the EU Presidency from France in January 2009, President Vaclav Klaus and the members of the Czech cabinet responsible for foreign policy have failed to reach agreement over their stance on the Russian-Georgian conflict, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told journalists.
Klaus has often clashed with the Czech government on foreign policy issues in the past, and he was critical of the fact that his country recognised the independence of Kosovo earlier this year.
However the Czech Government succeeded to adopt a strong-worded declaration, calling the recognition of the two separatists regions in Georgia by Russia “illegal” and that it “refuses it”.