EU Links Abkhazia To Sochi Olympics

ReutersBenita Ferrero-Waldner
Stepping up EU pressure on Russia, a European Union commissioner said Wednesday that Moscow's recent actions in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia might threaten the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"The EU is concerned that recent Russian moves in Georgia in particular might threaten to undermine stability on Russia's southern border, particularly relevant with the Sochi Olympics on the horizon," External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told State Duma deputies. "Greater instability in the region is clearly not in our mutual interest," she added, according to a transcript of her speech.

The unusually strong warning echoes remarks made by Georgian officials and carried in the national media that the unsolved conflict threatened to disrupt the Winter Games. Sochi is only a few kilometers away from the border with Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia after a bloody conflict in 1993.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU continued its approach based on full respect for Georgia's territorial integrity but that confidence-building measures should be conducted together with Russia.

"It is important to listen to the Georgians, and it is important to listen to the Russians and then in particular the Georgians must have a real dialogue with the Abkhazians," Ferrero-Waldner told reporters at a briefing before returning to Brussels late Wednesday.

Georgian and Abkhaz officials have warned of renewed risk of war after a series of incidents including the shooting-down of an unmanned Georgian spy plane, which the UN has said was carried out by a Russian fighter jet.

The recent crisis has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity by the United States and Europe. The EU's Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana is expected for talks in Tbilisi on Thursday and will also meet Abkhaz officials in the regional capital, Sukhumi.

Ferrero Waldner also met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks over a new cooperation agreement between Moscow and Brussels, negotiations for which are to start after a EU-Russia summit later this month.