Russia Recognizes Georgian Breakaway Regions – Reactions

Checkpoint in Abkhazia.  Source: nbp-info.comRussian President Dmitri Medvedev has signed decrees recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway regions within Georgia. The move, which follows a 5-day war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia, has already sparked loud outcry from around the world, with Western governments categorically rejecting the notion.

“I signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Medvedev announced in a televised address today. “Russia calls on other states to follow its example.”

“This is not an easy choice, but it is the only way to save the lives of people.”

It also became clear that Russian military forces would remain within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after requests from the presidents of the two breakaway republics.

The US had earlier called for the issue to be resolved by the United Nations. Tony Fratto, the White House Deputy Press Secretary, spoke on the topic at a press conference Monday:

“Well, the status of those two regions in Georgia are not a matter for any one country to decide; they’re a matter for the international community through the mechanisms at the United Nations. So those two regions are part of U.N. resolutions — resolutions, by the way, that Russia has supported in the past. That is the force of law today. As you heard the President say last week, the two regions are part of Georgia. They’re in Georgia, they’re part of Georgia, as a matter of these U.N. resolutions. And that’s where the matter stands.

“How we go forward in dealing with the two regions and what their interests are and the interests of Georgia are should be a matter of peaceful negotiations and discussion among the parties. That’s where we would like to get to.”

European governments, including the UK, France, Germany, and Italy also spoke out against the move.

Signing the declaration “further complicates an already complicated situation,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in Rome. “It’s a unilateral decision that doesn’t have international support that makes it legally binding.”

The office of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wrote in a statement: “This is contrary to the principles of the independence, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was equally outspoken. Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, the Chairman of the group, condemned the decision:

“The recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia violates fundamental OSCE principles. As all OSCE participating States, Russia is committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of others.

“Russia should follow OSCE principles by respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. Russia should immediately withdraw all troops from Georgia and implement the ceasefire agreement, including the modalities defined in the 16 August letter of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The international community cannot accept unilaterally established buffer zones,” Stubb said.

Russia experts and Russian political figures were predicting that by going through with calls for independence, Russia was setting itself up for international isolation.

“If [Medvedev] does this, it would be to further aggravate the relationship between Russia and the West,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. “Moving toward further isolation of Russia would be catastrophic.”

Mikhail Kasyanov, the leader of the People’s Democratic Union and a former Prime Minister, told the online newspaper (Rus) that “Russia is practically setting itself against the whole world. In the nearest future, one can expect a chill in relations.”

Alexander Rar, an analyst with the Berlin-based German Foreign Policy Council told the Sobkor®ru news agency (Rus) that “a new Cold War has started for Russia.”

“I think that for Russia, this is a dangerous situation,” he said, “and it can fall into international isolation. In the West, no one thought yesterday that Russia would recognize the independence of the republics. That is why the West is shocked. I think that the West will react emotionally: sending ships into the black sea, threatening countries that will support Russia’s decision with sanctions. Georgia will likely be accepted into NATO, although I’m not sure of this.”

One Russian expert dissented from the broad consensus that independence was a poor step for Russia. Sergei Arutyunov, the chair of the Caucasus department of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the move was unavoidable.

“There was no other way out,” he told the Sobkor®ru news agency (Rus), after saying he did not want to jump to value judgements.

Arutyunov led the Russian parliament’s delegation to Georgia in 1992, after the first South Ossetian war, which resulted in the region’s de facto independence. “I saw,” he said, “what the Georgians did in the unrecognized republics, and from then on my sympathy rested on the side of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Unfortunately, Georgia never did find a model which would allow it to retain these republics.”

Georgia, meanwhile, expressed the loudest protest, describing the step as “blatant annexation,” and saying that Russia was trying to revive the Soviet Union.

“Russia has legalized what it was threatening to do for a long time now,” Kakha Lomaia, the head of Georgia’s Security Council, told Bloomberg. “This means these two regions are about to join Russia. Make no mistake about it.”