Putin calls on Georgia to establish direct talks with Abkhazia and S. Ossetia

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged Georgia to abstain from seeking outside assistance in resolving its dispute with the newly emerged states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“There is no need to seek solutions on the side,” Putin stated, referring to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s recent criticism of Russia’s “occupation” of Georgian territory.

“Some think that [the territory] has been occupied, while others think it has been liberated,” Putin added. “It is the subject of talks between the peoples of Georgia and South Ossetia. And they should conduct this dialogue without referring to third parties.”

The Russian premier has once again reiterated that “We did not start that war.”

“Responsibility is borne by those who started it. They should pluck up their courage and find a way to the hearts of the people whom they wounded. An agreement should be negotiated,” Putin stressed, Itar-Tass writes. “Russia, just like other members of the international community, can only be a guarantor,” he added.

The premier was speaking to journalists at the Second World War museum in Moscow, where he was shown projects of a memorial that is to be erected in the capital as a symbol of Kutaisi's Glory monument, which was demolished by the Georgian authorities.

Georgian opposition supports Putin's statements

Georgia's former PM and the leader of Movement for Fair Georgia Zurab Nogaideli said, Putin’s statement is “an important message for Georgia.”  The country should itself seek the path to the hearts of the people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he told journalists in Moscow on July 6.

Tbilisi should “return Abkhazians and Ossetians,” he said, adding that it's the only way to settle the conflict and unite Georgia. “Russia will be co-operating in this process, if our actions are responsible,” NewsGeorgia agency quoted him as saying.

Nogaideli has visited Moscow for the eighth time since October 2009 to meet Russian politicians and representatives of the Georgian diaspora.

Hilary Clinton supports Tbilisi

Meanwhile, on Monday, on the last leg of her tour to Europe and Caucasus, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Georgia “to deliver a clear message” of support to Tbilisi.

“The United States is steadfast in its commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize spheres of influence,” she said at a joint media conference with President Mikhail Saakashvili, as quoted on the State Department’s website.

“We continue to call for Russia to abide by the August 2008 ceasefire commitment signed by President Saakashvili and President Medvedev, including ending the occupation and withdrawing Russian troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their pre-conflict positions,” Clinton stated.

Washington’s relations with Saakashvili – once a favorite of the Bush Administration – chilled down after the change of power in the While House and the Caucasus conflict. Clinton’s visit and her rhetoric has become an encouragement for the Georgian leadership and an assurance that Tbilisi’s interests won’t be left aside as Washington “resets” relations with Moscow.

“Throughout the years, since the fall of the Soviet Union, American assistance has been decisive in protecting Georgian independence, helping our democracy to grow,” the Georgian leader said, as written on the US State Department’s website.

Fact box

On the night of August 8, 2008, Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinval. Russia brought troops to the republic to protect the South Ossetian people, many of whom have Russian citizenship. Following the five day war, the Georgian military were forced out of the territory.

“This has been especially true in the recent critical period after the invasion of our country in 2008 in his statements defending our sovereignty by President Obama, the visit of Vice President Biden here last year, and your personal commitment to the end of the occupation of our country even a few days ago in Krakow, have been and are essential.”