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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Feted in South Ossetia

RIA Novosti / ReutersPresident Dmitry Medvedev being embraced by a woman during a welcoming ceremony in Tskhinvali on Monday.

President Dmitry Medvedev pledged support for South Ossetia’s separatist leadership during a surprise visit Monday that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili condemned as Russias “most immoral and shameful precedent in centuries.”
State television showed thousands of cheering Ossetians thronging the streets to welcome Medvedev, who is seen as a hero after the Russian military repelled Georgias attempt to seize the breakaway region by force last August.
Medvedevs visit is the first by a Russian leader since Moscow recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another separatist Georgian region, Abkhazia, in the aftermath of the war.
Analysts said the timing of the trip was a slap in the face of U.S. President Barack Obama, who had expressed public support for Georgia during his visit to Moscow last week.
Medvedev promised more financial and military aid to South Ossetia leader Eduard Kokoity during a meeting in South Ossetias capital, Tskhinvali.
We have a string of projects to rebuild the economy. … Show me what needs to be done, Medvedev said, Interfax reported.
Kokoity, in turn, praised Medvedev. The people of South Ossetia thank you for your support and for recognizing our states independence. Today is a big feast for our republic, he said in comments published on his governments web site.
Medvedev said South Ossetia was a new country that had emerged after dramatic events when it was firmly backed by the Russian people.
Saakashvili reacted with a fury unusual even for him. He has responded emotionally in the past to his countrys troubled relations with Moscow.
I think what happened today will enter the diplomatic history of Russia — which I have studied as the most immoral and shameful precedent in centuries, he said in a statement published on his presidential web site.
He branded Kokoity an unwashed criminal, saying that while the leader of small Georgia is out of the country resolving very important global issues, the president of such a big country Russia stole into one of our smallest regions and visited [an] unwashed criminal.
Saakashvili on Monday attended the signing of a transit deal for the Nabucco gas pipeline, meant to reduce Europes energy dependence on Russia, in Ankara, the Turkish capital (Story, page 4).
South Ossetia, which declared independence from Georgia as early as 1990, won recognition from Moscow after its five-day war last August, when Georgian troops overran Tskhinvali only to be routed when Russian forces poured into the tiny mountain republic.
The Russian troops then entered Georgia proper, where they briefly occupied wide territories and destroyed much of the countrys military infrastructure.
Russia withdrew its forces after negotiations led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy but has said it will keep 3,800 troops each in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet the Defense Ministry said in May that some of those forces could be stationed in Russia.
Medvedev, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, said military cooperation with South Ossetia would continue and visited a Russian military base outside Tskhinvali.
Moscows recognition of South Ossetias independence deepened a rift in relations with the West and has not been followed by its allies anywhere in the world except for Nicaragua.
Obama won praise from Saakashvili when he said in Moscow last week that Georgias sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.
On Monday, Saakashvili said the timing of Medvedevs trip was no coincidence.
I do not know whether it was in response to the Nabucco summit, which is considered by them as their great diplomatic failure, or if it was a response to Obamas visit, he said. 
Gia Nodia, a political science professor at Tbilisi University, said Medvedev was certainly making a gesture to the West by visiting Tskhinvali. Medvedev did not respond the day when Obama sent a clear message on Georgia, but now he is saying, ‘We do not care what Obama says, Nodia said by telephone from Tbilisi.
The visit delivers a visual message to Obama, said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. One week after Obamas visit, he is saying that no compromise is possible, he said.
Malashenko also suggested that the Kremlin had to demonstrate its control over South Ossetias leadership after reports that funds from Moscow had vanished. They fear that money is being stolen, he said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised South Ossetia 10 billion rubles ($305 million) in aid. So far, the government has signed off on 2.8 billion rubles ($85 million) to the republic of about 70,000 inhabitants.
Allegations of embezzlement surfaced in the national media when South Ossetia elected a new parliament last month. The election, which was won by Kokoitys ruling party, was criticized by the European Union, which called it illegitimate and a setback in efforts to resolve the dispute with Georgia.
The EU offered no immediate response to Medvedevs trip. But Marko Mihkelson, a deputy in the Estonian parliament and chairman of its European Affairs Committee, told The Moscow Times that the visit came as no big surprise, since Russia had recognized South Ossetias independence.
But he said it showed that Moscows real interests were in direct opposition to those of Europe and the United States. We saw a lot of talk and promises during Obamas visit in Moscow, but these steps now show that some of them have no substance, Mihkelson said by telephone from Tallinn.
He added that it was vital that the EU continued its observer mission there after both the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had to cease their missions in Georgia due to a veto from Moscow.
Nodia, from Tbilisi University, said fears that Russia might be planning another war could be exaggerated, but it was certainly in Moscows interest to create a perception of tension.
The Russian government recently linked Georgia to increasing instability in the North Caucasus. Speaking Friday in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelyev said about 60 insurgents were hiding in Georgia and might cross the border into Russian territory. As long as people like Saakashvili rule our neighbors, we will have no stability, Yedelyev said, Interfax reported.
After South Ossetia, Medvedev went to Sochi, where he told soldiers that the Navy had launched a ballistic missile from a submarine.
He told them that Tbilisi alone was to blame for the war and that Russian bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were meant to deter any further attacks.  This is a clear signal to those crack-brained people who regularly come up with idiotic plans in their heads, he said, according to the Vesti state television web site.