EU leaders condemn Russia in shadow of Kosovo

26.08.08 @ 17:59

  1. By Leigh Phillips

EU leaders have condemned as illegal Russia's decision to recognise the Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while Georgian rebels compared the move to the creation of Kosovo earlier this year.

  • Medvedev described Georgia in much the same way as Western leaders had once described Serbia (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The Russian decision is "absolutely unacceptable," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said while visiting Tallinn on Tuesday (26 August), AFP reports. "It is our position that the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia does not conform to international law."

"Georgia's independence and territorial integrity ... cannot be changed by decree from Moscow," UK foreign minister David Miliband said, while announcing he will visit Ukraine on Wednesday to build the "widest possible coalition against Russian aggression."

The French EU presidency called the move "regrettable," while Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini departed from Rome's normally Russia-friendly tone, saying "It's a unilateral decision that doesn't have international support that makes it legally binding."

Nordic states also blasted Moscow, with Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt calling the act a "deliberate violation of international law," and Denmark's Per Stig Moller declaring "unconditional support for Georgia's territorial integrity."

Eastern European capitals lined up in support of Georgia, with the Czech republic in a statement calling Russia's action "an attack on the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

With an emergency EU summit on EU-Russia relations tabled for next week, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said NATO should now offer road maps for the membership of both Georgia and Ukraine and called for a break in relations with Russia.

The proposal clashed with Germany, however, with Ms Merkel also saying Europe should maintain contact with its eastern neighbour despite events.

Georgia also reacted furiously. "This is an unconcealed annexation of these territories, which are a part of Georgia," said Georgia's deputy foreign minister, Giga Bokeria.

The Kosovo 'precedent'

The EU has tried to avoid parallels between Georgia separatism and the newly-created state of Kosovo in the past, saying Kosovo is "unique" despite the fact that 20 out of 27 EU states recognised its unilateral declaration of independence in February without an EU mandate.

Slovakia, as one of the seven EU countries that failed to recognise Kosovo, kept a low profile on Tuesday, with Bratislava merely expressing "disagreement" with the Russian decision.

Authorities in Abkhazia were happy to make the link, however, with Abkhaz deputy foreign minister Maxim Gunjia telling EUobserver: "We use the same arguments as those used by the West with regard to Kosovo: All other possible means were exhausted. There was no possible way to reconcile with Georgia. This is purely a continuation of the Kosovo precedent."

"Of course some Western leaders will say that there is no link between Kosovo and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but what can they say without contradicting themselves about what they said about Kosovo?"

"We very positively accept the Russian decision," he added. "There are celebrations in the streets. It's like a holiday here."

Russian decree

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the decrees recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia earlier on Tuesday, saying "This was not an easy choice to make, but it is the sole chance of saving people's lives" and calling on other countries to follow suit.

In a televised address, he echoed the language of genocide used by Western leaders to describe Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians in 1999 and during their subsequent recognition of the Serbian province.

"Tbilisi made its choice during the night of August 8, 2008. Saakashvili opted for genocide to accomplish his political objectives," said Mr Medvedev. "By doing so, he himself dashed all the hopes for the peaceful co-existence of Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians in a single state."

"The Georgian leadership, in violation of the UN Charter and their obligations under international agreements and contrary to the voice of reason, unleashed an armed conflict victimising innocent civilians," he continued. "The same fate lay in store for Abkhazia."

NATO rift

Russia has also announced it will temporarily freeze military-to-military co-operation with NATO, including suspending Russia's participation in joint exercises, military exchanges and logistic co-operation.

High-level visits of NATO officials to the Russian Federation will also be postponed, as well as the visits of NATO ships to Russian ports.

The move comes as a "first response" to NATO's verbal support for Georgia, but Moscow said it will keep up political dialogue with the Atlantic alliance for now.