Russian parliament backs independence for Georgia’s rebel regions (Lead)

August 25th, 2008 - 7:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 25 (DPA) Russian lawmakers Monday unanimously passed a resolution backing the independence of Georgia’s rebel regions, a move sure to deepen a rift with the West over Moscow’s military actions in the former Soviet state.In an emergency session, the two houses of parliament unanimously voted in a motion urging President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

The rush toward recognition of the ethnically separate regions follows the brief but bloody war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia earlier this month.

The European Union (EU) demonstrated its anger by calling an emergency summit on the continued presence of Russian troops on Georgian soil. At the same time, tension peaked with Washington, as a US warship loaded with humanitarian aid docked at Georgia’s port of Batumi.

Russia has accused Georgia of “genocide” in its offensive to re-claim South Ossetia, and said in the aftermath it would be unimaginable for the province to accept the yoke of Georgian leadership.

The resolution Monday said “aggressive actions which result in the death of thousands of South Ossetian civilians has with finality deprived the Georgian leadership of the right to demand that the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia be subject to its adventurist policy.”

Moscow has long backed the rebel governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but stopped short of acknowledging the republics’ repeated appeals for independence since they won de facto autonomy 15 years ago in a civil war.

Launching their plea to Russian deputies in Moscow, South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity called Georgian action the “Caucasus Stalingrad.”

“It is hard to say what decision Russia’s political leaders will make on our republics, but I can say for certain that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will never be part of Georgia,” Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told lawmakers.

The Kremlin will have the final say on recognizing the republics, and experts say it is likely to request that the provinces hold a referendum, delaying the decision but enhancing its negotiation position with the West.

Medvedev last week promised the rebel leaders in Moscow that Russia would support their move toward self-determination.

Moscow has warned repeatedly that Kosovo’s recent independence could serve as a legal precedent for recognizing the rebel regions’ break from Georgia.

But Western powers have defended Georgia’s “territorial integrity” throughout the conflict, and any move by Moscow toward recognition will drive deeper a wedge in relations now strained to their most critical state since Cold War years.

France, which used its EU presidency to broker a ceasefire last week, called a special meeting of EU leaders for September 1 to review relations with Moscow over the crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ties with Moscow would suffer if its troops were not fully withdrawn.

On Monday Medvedev countered that Russia would survive a break with NATO, saying: “If they break off this cooperation, as a matter fact, it won’t mean anything terrible to us.

“We are ready to make any decision, up to an including terminating relations as a whole,” Medvedev said.

NATO and Russia broke off formal military cooperation last week.

Russian tanks rolled into South Ossetia on August 8, blocking Georgia’s assault on the region and pushing deep into the former Soviet republic to take control of all key oil trade routes and demolish its US-equipped military training bases.

Russia pulled back its forces on Friday to a buffer zone surrounding the separatist regions, but has maintained troops near Georgia’s port town of Poti.

The US and the EU object to the continued zone of control as a half-measure that fails to comply with the peace accord that ended the 10 days of fighting.

As the USS McFaul docked in Georgia, Russia’s top military brass renewed its accusation that the US was seeking to build-up a fleet in the Black Sea.

On Monday Russia warned Georgia against deploying unmanned aerial observation drones over South Ossetian territory. In April, before the current conflict began, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian drone over Abkhazia, heightening tensions.

Moscow accuses Washington of using NATO to renew its Cold War policy of encirclement and containment. US backing of Georgia’s bid for NATO membership was seen as stoking the fires ahead of the recent conflict.

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