Russian Lawmakers Prod Moscow to Recognize Breakaway Regions
August 25, 2008 - 5:43 AM<b>B</b>oth houses of the Russian parliament on Monday were expected to urge President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize Georgia’s breakaway regions as independent.
The upper Federation Council passed a measure unanimously, and the lower State Duma was to consider a parallel one later in the day.
Backed by Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have had self-rule since the early 1990s, but internationally they are recognized as part of Georgia. Russia, which has deployed peacekeepers in both regions for years, has up to now stopped short of supporting their bids for independence.
A military offensive launched by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in an attempt to reassert control over South Ossetia earlier this month triggered a counterattack by Russia.
Russian forces quickly expelled Georgian troops from the province and pressed on into other parts of Georgia. Russia also sent additional forces into the western rebel province, Abkhazia.
A European Union-brokered ceasefire is in place, but Russia’s interpretation of the agreement as allowing it do maintain “buffer zones” outside the territory of South Ossetia and Abkhazia continues to draw protests. The zone being carved out around South Ossetia could see Russian troops deployed less than 50 miles from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
Russia also remains in control of the port of Poti, the country’s main commercial link to the outside world.
The conflict has taken relations between Russia and the West to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.
Russian lawmakers were recalled from vacation for a special sitting to discuss formal appeals by separatist leaders in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for recognition.
The State Duma, the more powerful of the two chambers, is dominated by pro-Kremlin parties, and senior lawmakers – including the speaker and heads of key committees – have been quoted in recent days as voicing sympathy for the two regions’ aspirations.
Although a parliamentary vote would not be binding on the Kremlin, Medvedev has expressed backing for that view.
When he met with the two separatist leaders, Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s Sergei Bagapsh, in Moscow on August 14, Medvedev pledged Russia would both “support” and “guarantee” any decision made by the inhabitants of the regions (large majorities in both regions have supported independence in referendums).
Speaking the same day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the world could “forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity” because South Ossetia and Abkhazia would never agree to return to Georgia.
In response, White House spokesman Dana Perino said the administration considered such talk “bluster” and would ignore it.
When the international community was pondering Kosovo’s future status, critics warned that recognizing its independence from Serbia could boost secessionist campaigns in several former Soviet republics, including Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Moldova (Transdnistria), Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Ukraine (Crimea).
Kosovo went ahead and declared independence in February. The U.S. and most E.U. member states recognized it, while insisting it created no precedent that could be invoked elsewhere.
But an angry Kremlin disagreed, and Lavrov said at the time the Kosovo case “will doubtless have to be taken into account as far as the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned.”