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15th Apr 2024

Russian moves in Caucasus provoke EU concern

  • South Ossetia and Abkhazia both declared independence from Georgia in 1992 (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU and NATO have said they are concerned by Russia's move to extend its links with Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Referring to Russia's "unilateral decisions", EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokesperson said: "We have always supported Georgia's territorial integrity."

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Mr Solana spoke to Georgian President Mikheil Sakashvilli to discuss Russia's actions on Wednesday (16 April). "Mr Saakashvili called Mr Solana and expressed his concern about this development, in particular because of the unilateral nature of the decision by the Russians," said the spokesperson.

On Wednesday, outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree expanding ties between the government and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The move involves the recognition of organisations and businesses registered in the two republics.

NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer requested Russia not go ahead with the move.

"I am deeply concerned by the actions Russia has taken to establish legal links with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," said the NATO secretary-general.

"The Russian steps undermine [Georgia's] sovereignty," he continued. "I urge the Russian Federation to reverse these measures, and call on the Georgian authorities to continue to show restraint."

Georgia for its part believes this is a step on the path to recognition of their independence and ultimately Russian annexation of the regions. Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders welcomed the move, saying it was indeed a step towards recognising their independence.

"This is an attempt to legalize the annexation of two Georgian regions," said the Georgian foreign minister, David Bakradze.

"It contradicts all international laws. Georgia will use all diplomatic, political and legal tools to stop this process, which destabilises the situation in the region."

The country's security council has since met to decide how to respond to Russia's move, and is to request a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation.

Analysts argue that Moscow is responding to the decision taken at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest that Georgia would be able to one day join the Western military alliance.

Last week, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia would: "do everything not to let Ukraine and Georgia join NATO".

Russia says the development is just to support business links in the region and boost economic development.

"The main motivating factor for all our actions in this field is care for the interests of the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including the Russian citizens living there," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Moscow had warned that the recognition of the independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo by Western countries, would be followed by Russia's recognition of breakaway republics in the South Caucasus.

Until now, Russia has not followed through on this threat to extend diplomatic recognition, most likely, say commentators, because the country has separatist regions of its own – not least of which Chechnya, also in the Caucasus – which it does not want to embolden.

However, the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta is reporting that Mr Putin intends to issue a decree that will permit Russian ministries and regions to open representations in Georgia's two breakaway republics that would engage in official cooperation with their counterparts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Although Russia would install diplomats in the representations, the opening of full consulates, nonetheless, would not take place.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia both declared independence from Georgia in 1992. No countries, including Russia, have recognised this independence.

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