Girls hold russian and South Ossetian separatists' flags in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, yesterday.
Girls hold russian and South Ossetian separatists' flags in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, yesterday.

Legislators back plan on Georgian separatists



MOSCOW // Russian legislators yesterday called on President Dmitry Medvedev to recognise the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, a move likely to exacerbate Russia's already strained relations with the West.

Both houses of the Russian parliament unanimously passed non-binding resolutions asking Mr Medvedev to recognise the independence of the two pro-Moscow regions, which the Kremlin has supported morally and economically following their separatist wars with Georgia in the early 1990s. The resolutions passed by Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, and the lower house, the State Duma, came just two weeks after a bloody conflict erupted between Georgia and Russia following Georgian troops' attempt to retake the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.

"People cannot live together in the same country with those who burnt them alive, ran over them with tanks and shot their relatives and loved ones dead," Sergei Mironov, the Federation Council speaker, told legislators at an extraordinary session yesterday morning. Russia and Georgia have accused each other of committing war crimes in the conflict, while Georgia claims it is the victim of Russian aggression.

The Russian State Duma passed a resolution later yesterday asking Mr Medvedev to recognise the two regions' independence, calling Georgia's actions in South Ossetia "barbaric aggression". "Russia's historic role of the guarantor of peace in the Caucasus has increased," Boris Gryzlov, the State Duma speaker, told MPs. "The Caucasus has always been and will remain the zone of Russia's strategic interests." Both houses of the Russian parliament are dominated by Kremlin loyalists, and the resolutions are merely recommendations. Under the Russian constitution, only the president can recognise the independence of a foreign state.

As the resolutions were being passed, Mr Medvedev was meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi with the president of another ex-Soviet republic with a pro-Moscow breakaway republic. Mr Medvedev warned Vladimir Voronin, the president of Moldova, whose breakaway Transdnestr region has sought sovereignty, against using violence to settle so-called "frozen conflicts". "After the Georgian leadership lost their marbles, as they say, all the problems got worse and a military conflict erupted," Mr Medvedev told Mr Voronin, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin website.

"This is a serious warning, a warning to all. And I believe we should handle other existing conflicts in this context." Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said at a news conference in Stockholm yesterday that it was unlikely Mr Medvedev would move to recognise independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "I expect that the Russian president won't sign the resolution," Ms Merkel said, Reuters reported.

The White House announced yesterday that Dick Cheney, the vice president, would on Sept 2 embark on a trip with stops in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy. Mr Cheney will hold talks in Georgia with Mikhail Saakashvili, the president, to discuss the Russian-Georgia situation. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has called a special meeting of European Union leaders for Sept 1 to determine what the EU will do as far as aiding Georgia and developing future relations with Russia, the Associated Press reported.

France holds the 27-member bloc's rotating presidency. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said yesterday the EU was not considering sanctions against Moscow. On Sunday, a US Navy destroyer loaded with humanitarian aid reached Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi. Carrying about 55 tonnes of humanitarian aid, it was the first of three American ships scheduled to arrive this week, AP reported. However, the deputy chief of Russia's general staff suggested yesterday the arrival of US and other Nato warships in the Black Sea would increase tensions. The actions "add another degree to the tension in the region", Anatoly Nogovitsyn said in televised remarks.

Russian troops still hold positions near Poti, and Georgians say the Russians inflicted extensive damage on port facilities there. In central Georgia, a few kilometres west of the city of Gori, a fire tore through an oil train after an explosion on Sunday. The cause was not clear, but Georgians have accused Russian troops of targeting oil facilities and transport links, according to AP. cschreck@thenational.ae

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