The Australian, Australia
Sept 1 2008



Russia to absorb breakaway states

Tony Halpin, Moscow | September 01, 2008


THE Kremlin moved at the weekend to tighten its grip on Georgia's
breakaway regions as South Ossetia announced it would soon become part
of Russia, which will open military bases in the province under a deal
to be signed tomorrow.

The Deputy Speaker of the South Ossetian parliament, Tarzan Kokoity,
announced that the region would be absorbed into Russia soon so its
people could live in "one united Russian state" with their ethnic kin
in North Ossetia.

The declaration came less than a week after Russia defied Western
criticism and recognised South Ossetia and Georgia's other separatist
region of Abkhazia as independent states.

South Ossetia's leader, Eduard Kokoity, agreed it would form part of
Russia within "several years" during talks with Russian President
Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow at the weekend.

The disclosure will expose Russia to accusations it is annexing land
regarded by the West as part of Georgia. Until now, Moscow has
insisted its troops intervened in the region to protect South Ossetia
and Abkhazia from Georgian aggression.

The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian official as saying Moscow
planned to establish two bases in Abkhazia.

Abkhazia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Shamba, said an agreement on
military co-operation would be signed within a month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that agreements on "peace,
co-operation and mutual assistance" with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
were being prepared on the orders of Mr Medvedev. Abkhazia said it
would ask Russia to represent its interests abroad.

Georgia announced it was recalling all diplomatic staff from its
embassy in Moscow in protest at the continued Russian occupation of
its land, saying this was in defiance of the ceasefire agreement
brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The parliament in Tbilisi declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be
under Russian occupation. Vice-Speaker Gigi Tsereteli dismissed South
Ossetia's claim to become part of Russia, saying: "The world has
become different, and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign
Georgian territory.

"The regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should think about the fact
that if they become part of Russia, they will be assimilated, and in
this way they will disappear."

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze scrapped agreements that
permitted Russian peacekeepers to operate in the two regions after
fighting between separatist and Georgian forces in the early 1990s,
and called for their replacement by international troops.

Moscow's ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, described
Tbilisi's decision to sever relations as "a step towards further
escalation of tensions with Russia, and the desire to drive the
situation into an even worse deadlock".

Russia criticised the Group of Seven after the US, Britain, France,
Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan condemned its "excessive use of
military force" in Georgia. In a joint statement, they called on
Russia to "implement in full" the French ceasefire agreement.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the G7 was "justifying Georgian acts
of aggression" and insisted Moscow had met its obligations under the
six-point peace agreement.

Having been rebuffed on Thursday by China and four central Asian
states, Russia will seek support next week from the Collective
Security Treaty Organisation for its recognition of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia.

The CSTO comprises Russia and the six former Soviet republics of
Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The signing of the military agreement with South Ossetia will take
place the day after a summit of European Union leaders to discuss the
crisis.

Russia lashed out at NATO, saying it had "no moral right" to pass
judgment on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile,
the US confirmed that the flagship of its Sixth Fleet, the USS Mount
Whitney, would deliver humanitarian aid and supplies to Georgia next
week. Two other US warships are already moored off Georgia's Black Sea
port of Batumi.

Mr Medvedev has accused the US of shipping weapons to Georgia along
with aid.