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26 Aug, 2008 07:02

Medvedev backs independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has declared that Russia will recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He made the announcement in Sochi following a unanimous vote for

“We are all well aware of South Ossetia’s tragedy. The night shelling of Tskhinval by the Georgian troops led to the deaths of thousands of civilians. Russian peacekeepers have died, but they did everything they could to protect the civilian population,” Medvedev said in the announcement. 

“The Georgian government – breaking UN regulations and its obligations to the international community, running counter to common sense – started a military conflict which claimed many civilians’ lives. Tbilisi must have planned to carry out a ‘blitzkrieg’ and chose the most inhumane way to annex South Ossetia – by destroying its whole population.”
Medvedev believes it can now be clearly seen that a peaceful resolution of the conflict was not in Tbilisi’s plans.

“The Georgian leadership was getting ready for war step by step,” he said. “And on the night of August 8, 2008, Tbilisi made its choice. Saakashvili chose genocide as a means to solve his political tasks. Doing this, he destroyed with his own hands all hopes for the peaceful living of South Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians as part of one state.”

“We understand that after what had happened in Tskhinval, and what was planned to be done in Abkhazia, these people have a right to resolve their fates themselves. Presidents of both republics – basing their policies on the results of referendums and the decisions of the republics’ parliaments – turned to Russia, asking us to recognise the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

”The Federation Council and the State Duma of the Russian Federation voted in favour of these applications.

“We respect the free will of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian people, and basing our actions on international regulations and documents, I have signed an order to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation. Russia is also calling on other states to follow suit.”

Hard road to independence

South Ossetia, which borders Russia in the south Caucasus, and Abkhazia on the Black Sea, had previously attempted to break away from Georgia following referendums which were overwhelmingly in favour of independence. The results were ignored by Tbilisi, which claimed the ethnic Georgians forced to flee the regions were not consulted. The recent conflict in South Ossetia has added further urgency to the demands for self-determination.
The roots of the current discord can be traced back to the divide and conquer policies of Joseph Stalin – himself half Georgian, half Ossetian. Before the 1917 revolution, the ethnic groups of the Caucasus all lived as separate subjects of the Russian empire. However, with the Bolsheviks came the redrawing of the map, with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia becoming parts of Georgia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the then Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia advocated a nationalist “Georgia for the Georgians” policy, re-opening old wounds. Two military conflicts followed, leaving thousands dead and forcing many more to flee the conflict zones.

The ceasefire in the early 1990s brought de-facto independence to both regions with the shaky truce maintained by peacekeeping forces of mainly Russian troops.
Since becoming president in 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili has pledged to bring his country closer to the West, which has also motivated his drive to end the territorial disputes.
Ossetians and Georgians have lived side by side for centuries. The two groups share Soviet history and the Orthodox Christian religion and intermarriage is common. But the ties that once bound their cultures have been severely damaged in the trauma of the recent fighting. Kosovo's self-declared independence in February, too, has boosted these regions' ambitions.
Most Abkhazians and South Ossetians carry Russian passports and the only valid currency is the Russian rouble. In addition, both self-declared republics have presidents, flags and national anthems.