Lawmakers Recognize Rebel Regions

APAbkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, right, and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity applauding after senators backed their regions' independence Monday.
The parliament on Monday called on President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Both houses of parliament voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, but there was much less consensus from observers on whether Medvedev would go through with the move in the immediate future.

"The Caucasus region has always been in Russia's zone of strategic interest, and this will be recognized regardless of any declarations from senior voices abroad," State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told the chamber, the Duma's web site reported.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said South Ossetians and Abkhaz would "not be able to live in the same country with those who burned their relatives alive, ran over them with tanks and shot them," Interfax reported.

In the nonbinding resolutions, copies of which were obtained by The Moscow Times, the legislators said the move was necessary to protect the breakaway regions from Georgian aggression and pointed to repeated requests from leaders in the two republics for recognition of their independence.

"Georgia's refusal to sign an agreement not to use force and its subsequent aggressive actions in early August ... have deprived the Georgian leadership of the right to lay claim to the trust of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz peoples for the opportunist policies that have lead to a humanitarian disaster," the Federation Council resolution said.

Andrei Nelidov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council's CIS Affairs Committee, said Moscow had to protect the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who shared a common heritage with the Russian people.

Andrei Klimov, deputy head of Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the resolution followed logically from a March 21 Duma resolution, which called for the recognition of the breakaway regions in the case of Georgian military action against them.

"When they have slaughtered so many people, we have to react somehow," Klimov said, in a reference to Russian claims of high civilian and military casualties resulting from Georgia's armed move into South Ossetia on the night of Aug. 7-8.

A Kremlin spokesman said Monday that it was not prepared to comment on the resolutions.

Medvedev met in Sochi on Monday with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, whose country is involved in a standoff with its own separatist region, Transdnestr.

Medvedev told Voronin it became clear "how dangerous so-called frozen conflicts can be when the Georgian leadership ... lost its mind," Interfax reported.

Medvedev also said Russia was unconcerned about a possible breach of relations with NATO.

"We don't want ... to live in an illusion as [military] bases are established around us ... and all we keep hearing is: 'Don't worry,'" Medvedev said, the news agency reported.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said he would not press Russia for a quick decision and was prepared to wait, Interfax reported.

Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, meanwhile, said recognizing South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence would "contribute to peace and stability in the Caucasus."

A senior Georgian official said a move to recognize the breakaway regions would bring little change in Moscow-Tbilisi relations.

"The situation can hardly get worse," said Georgian National Security Council spokesman Zura Kachkachishvili. "Nothing will really change."

But he did say a delay "might be used by Russia as leverage in talks with Western parties."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the recognition of independence for the two separatist regions would create a "very difficult, critical situation" in regards to Georgia's territorial integrity and violate international agreements, Reuters reported.

There was real doubt Monday that a recognition announcement from the Kremlin would appear any time soon.

"Recognition shouldn't be rapid but discussed over a few years, so that it is recognized by the international community," said Vadim Mukhanov, a senior researcher at the Caucasus Research Center at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations.

Vasily Likhachev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Relations Committee, said Medvedev would likely take time weighing his options.

Likhachev said he expected Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to "conduct a few one-on-one consultations with strategic partners like the United Nations, for example."

Nicu Popescu, a London-based analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence would gain little for the regions themselves, while further straining relations.

"We will end up with a Cyprus-like situation, where Turkey is the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," Popescu said. "As we can see, this creates big problems for EU-Turkey relations."

n Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, said Monday that Russia would carry out regular inspections of cargo at Georgia's economically vital Black Sea port of Poti, Interfax reported.

n French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that the EU did not envision sanctions against Russia after the conflict with Georgia, Reuters reported.