|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russia Recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia
Aug. 26 (EIRNS)Responding promptly to resolutions by the Russian State Duma and Federation Council, President Dmitri Medvedev today signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations. It is a major shift in Russian policy: For years, through many requests from the leaders of these regions for recognition, and even after the province of Kosovo split from Serbia earlier this year and was recognized by countries in the West, Russia held back from endorsement of any redrawing of borders. "This is not an easy choice to make," Medvedev said in his statement, released by the Kremlin, "but it represents the only possibility to save human lives."
Medvedev summarized the recent actions of the Saakashvili regime in Tbilisi, listing first of all, "the nighttime execution-style bombardment of Tskhinval," which killed hundreds of people. "The same fate lay in store for Abkhazia," he added. The Russian President reviewed the Georgian campaigns against these autonomous republics since 1991, beginning under nationalist President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Throughout the 1990s, Medvedev recalled, Russia acted as peacekeeper and mediator, "invariably guided by the recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity." He stated that it was Saakashvili who disrupted the negotiating process and opted for military attack: "A peaceful resolution of the conflict was not part of Tbilisi's plan. The Georgian leadership was methodically preparing for war, while the political and material support provided by their foreign guardians only served to reinforce the perception of their own impunity."
Medvedev said that Saakashvili "opted for genocide to accomplish his political objectives," with the Aug. 7-8 Georgian attack. "By doing so he himself dashed all the hopes for the peaceful coexistence of Ossetians, Abkhazians, and Georgians in a single state.... It is our understanding that after what has happened in Tskhinval and what has been planned for Abkhazia, they have the right to decide their destiny by themselves." Medvedev then listed a number of international accords, including the UN Charter, as well as earlier referenda conducted in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as the legal basis for his signing decrees on the recognition of the two countries' independence.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a lengthier itemization of the circumstances of the Russian decision, which is available on the ministry's website, www.mid.ru.
Medvedev Meets Moldova President on Another 'Frozen Conflict'
Aug. 25 (EIRNS)The day before announcing Russia's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, President Dmitri Medvedev received the President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, for talks on the third most prominent "frozen conflict" of the post-Soviet space, the Transdniestria district. As Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke from Georgia, Transdniestria broke from the central Moldovan government after violence in the early 1990s. Like the "autonomies" in Georgia, the current leadership of the unrecognized Transdniestrian Republic renewed their push for international recognition, after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia earlier this year.
Now, according to the Novosti information agency and a Kremlin transcript of Medvedev's opening remarks before today's meeting, Russia is preparing a new diplomatic initiative to resolve the Transdniestria-Moldova situation.
Medvedev said that the South Ossetia crisis showed "what potential for conflict the so-called frozen conflicts conceal.... This is a very serious warning to us all, and I think that, in this context, we also need to examine the other problems that exist." He noted that he and Voronin had already opened a discussion of the matter, around the Community of Independent States (CIS) summit in St. Petersburg in June, and that today they would explore possible approaches. Voronin concurred, saying he was open to reviewing the 17-year status quo, because, "This kind of frozen, dormant conflict is a volcano and you never know what will trigger it and when it might erupt again. Of course, taking into consideration the recent events, it would be best to once again summon our wisdom and ability to ensure that nothing of this kind happens with us."
Split in Ukrainian Leadership Deepens
Aug. 23 (EIRNSUkrainian President Viktor Yushchenko took a high-profile role in the aftermath of the South Ossetia crisis, appearing together with Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, urging again that Ukraine be given a NATO Membership Action Plan, and trying to place further restrictions on movements of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, certain to be Yushchenko's primary opponent in the 2010 Presidential elections, has remained lower-key, and opposed holding a big military parade on Ukrainian Independence Day Aug. 24; Her advisors called it too provocative towards Russia.
Regarding Yushchenko's decree on the Russia Black Sea Fleet, Tymoshenko's advisor said, "This unilateralism on both sides causes problems. The President took unilateral action in his announcement. There must be a mechanism to cover this issue, but if it's not workable and not enforceable, it could act as a pretext for the other side."
Russian Government Pulls Out of Some WTO Agreements
Aug. 26 (EIRNS)The Russian government does not expect the country to join the World Trade Organization in the next few months, or even one year. While similar statements have been made by Agriculture Minister Gordeyev and even Foreign Minister Lavrov, this one came from the supposed leading free-trade liberal in the Russian Cabinet, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. It was reported by RBC.ru, Prime-Tass, and other media. Following a government presidium meeting on Aug. 25, Shuvalov said that Russia has decided to pull out of several agreements signed during negotiations on WTO accession. Those involve the right of Russia to export agricultural products. The situation has changed since these issues were negotiated with the WTO, since the outbreak of the global food crisis, and Russia has offered to export more grain, which implies more state aid to the farming sector.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Aug. 25 that it was "sensible" to abandon some of the commitments Russia made during WTO accession talks. "We don't see or feel advantages from membership, if they exist at all. But we are carrying the burden," Putin said in comments posted on the government website. "Basic fairness should prevail."
Putin said Russia would continue WTO accession talks, but at its own pace and not at the expense of its economic interests. "Certain sectors of our economy, primarily agriculture, are carrying a fairly heavy load," Putin said. Since one of the factors Russia was waiting for was approval of its membership bid by recent new WTO member Georgia, this is also a factor, though not one that Putin or Shuvalov mentioned.
Shanghai Council Backs Russian 'Active Role' in Caucasus
Aug. 28 (EIRNS)The Presidents of the six Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member nations today signed the Dushanbe Declaration, which supports Russia's "active role" in the current crisis in the Caucasus region. The Declaration states that the "SCO member-states are deeply concerned over tensions around the South Ossetian issue, and call on all sides concerned to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue." Full SCO members are China, Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Observers are India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Iran, with a special observer status for Afghanistan.
The Declaration does not, however, recognize the independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, nor was this expected. Nevertheless, Russian President Medvedev later explained, the Presidents "agreed that such events" as the Georgian aggression, "would not enforce global security," and that "any nation which launched aggression should be held responsible" for the consequences.