Russia Adds 2 New Countries to Its Map

APA fighter wrapped in a South Ossetian flag firing a Kalashnikov in the air as he celebrates in Tskhinvali on Tuesday.
Defying warnings from Western leaders, President Dmitry Medvedev announced Tuesday that he had signed a decree recognizing the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

In a televised address from his residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Medvedev said the decision was aimed at protecting Abkhaz and South Ossetians from what he described as a "genocide" by Georgia in its attempt to reclaim the rebel regions

"This is not an easy decision, but this is the only chance to save people's lives," Medvedev said.

In a clear dig at Georgia, Medvedev identified the capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "Tskhinval" and "Sukhum," respectively, as the cities are called by Ossetians and Abkhaz.

In Georgian, and internationally, the cities are known as Tskhinvali and Sukhumi.

Georgia and Western countries quickly condemned the announcement, while Medvedev said later Tuesday that Russia is not afraid of a new Cold War.

"We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War," he said. "But we don't want it, and in this situation everything depends on the position of our partners."

Western countries should understand his motives if they wish to maintain good relations with Russia, Medvedev said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Medvedev's sentiments in a conference call with journalists Tuesday evening.

"I don't think we should really be afraid of isolation," said Lavrov, who was speaking in English. "I believe common sense will prevail."

Russia's stock markets briefly plummeted on Medvedev's announcement, reaching their lowest levels since 2006 with the RTS Index falling as much as 6.1 percent, and the MICEX Index falling as much as 5.8 percent.

Both the State Duma and the Federation Council on Monday unanimously passed nonbinding resolutions urging Medvedev to recognize the regions' independence following the five-day armed conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia.

Georgia, the most enthusiastic U.S. ally in the Caucasus, is seeking NATO membership, and its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has made reining in the rebel regions his top domestic policy goal.

Saakashvili said in a statement that the decision "confirms that [Russia's] invasion of Georgia was part of a broader, premeditated plan to redraw the map of Europe."

"Today the fate of Europe and the free world is unfortunately being played out in my small country," Saakashvili said, adding that Georgia "counts on the support" of "all free people."

Moscow has backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia economically, militarily and politically since they broke away from Georgia in bloody separatist wars in early 1990s.

The Kremlin has rankled Georgia by giving Russian passports to most of the regions' residents.

Medvedev's announcement was marked with celebrations in both regions, where men rejoiced by firing automatic weapons into the air.

The United States, Britain, German and France all moved quickly to condemn Medvedev's announcement, as did NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main European human rights and security body.

Ria-Novosti / Reuters
Medvedev speaking in Sochi.

Speaking in the West Bank town of Ramallah, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the decision "extremely unfortunate."

"Since the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council, this simply will be dead-on-arrival in the Security Council," Rice said, The Associated Press reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech during a visit to the Estonian capital of Tallinn that the move was "absolutely unacceptable."

U.S. President George Bush on Monday warned Medvedev against recognizing Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence.

"Georgia's territorial integrity and borders must command the same respect as every other nation's, including Russia," Bush said in a statement from Crawford, Texas, where he was vacationing.

Lavrov told reporters Tuesday that the "territorial integrity of Georgia is a principle to which we had always subscribed," but that the events on Aug. 8 "changed everything."

"Saakashvili himself buried the territorial integrity of his country," Lavrov said.

Georgian troops attempted to reclaim South Ossetia militarily on Aug. 8, only to be crushed by the Russian military.

The speed with which the Kremlin decided to recognize the regions' independence surprised many political analysts, who predicted that Medvedev would use the possibility of such recognition as a bargaining chip in dealing with the West.

But after Western leaders urged Medvedev not to act on Monday's parliamentary resolutions, he risked appearing as if he had bent to foreign pressure had he not responded forcefully, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Medvedev called on other countries to follow suit and recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, though the only countries likely to do so are those that openly supported Russia's military campaign -- Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus and Syria.

Medvedev ordered the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to begin negotiations with the separatist republics in order to prepare friendship treaties with them, the Kremlin's press office said.

Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh said in televised remarks Tuesday that his republic is set to sign a military pact with Russia.

His South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, said he would invite Moscow to build a military base outside Tskhinvali.

Both separatist leaders thanked Russia for recognizing their independence, saying their republics would "forever" be with Russia.

By rejecting warnings from the West, Moscow has all but guaranteed that Georgia and Ukraine the will be offered a Membership Action Plan at December's NATO summit, Makarkin said.

At the previous summit, France and Germany pushed to postpone the entry of the two former Soviet republics into the alliance, despite Bush's aggressive backing of their bids.

"If Georgia's integration in NATO was under question before, now Georgia's is unanimously seen in the West as a victim," Makarkin said. "The West will move to protect it."

Staff Writer Natalia Krainova contributed to the report.