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9 Sep, 2008 22:44

Russian troops to replace peacekeepers in new states

Russia has established formal diplomatic ties with newly independent South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow will now station about 8,000 regular army troops there to provide protection for the republics. Meanwhile, Russian c

The news was announced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a joint media conference with his counterparts from the new states.

“First of all, we have exchanged notes and have agreed to establish diplomatic relations between Russia and Abkhazia and Russia and South Ossetia,” Lavrov said.

“We are setting up ties at the ambassadorial level. Secondly, we have discussed the drafts of agreements between Russia and South Ossetia and Russia and Abkhazia on friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance”. The documents mentioned by the Russian foreign minister will coordinate all kinds of cooperation including military.

The move follows Moscow’s decision to recognise the republics’ independence after Georgia attempted to gain control of South Ossetia last month by force.

Meanwhile, Georgian deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze called the agreement ‘just a farce’:

“The real goal for Russia is military bases in those two Georgian regions. But sooner or later – and we think, sooner – the embassies and the bases will have to go”.

It has also been revealed that Russian checkpoints in Georgia are being closed down. This has been  confirmed by the Georgian Interior Ministry, according to AFP.

Russian military presence in the republics

In response to the request by Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders, Russia will provide security in the republics, said Lavrov. According to the foreign minister, this has already been announced and the documents have been signed.

“Upon the request of the two republics Russian armed forces will be present on their territory to provide security,” Lavrov said.

When the agreement, drawn up on Tuesday by all sides, is signed and ratified around 8,000 troops will be present on the territories of Abkazia and South Ossetia on an international legal basis, as has been stressed the Russian foreign minister.

“These are not peacekeepers, but a military contingent, the number of which has been set by the Ministry of Defence during the consultations with its partners in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They will be present there as the troops of a foreign country, providing security on behalf of the corresponding,” said Lavrov.

As for the Russian peacekeepers, Lavrov said they will leave the two republics when international observers arrive.

“As soon as at least 200 observers from the EU and OSCE arrive in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, our peacekeepers will leave their posts. We have agreed a 10-day timeframe for complete withdrawal. The observers should arrive by October 1,” the Russian foreign minister noted.

Newborn states hope for international recognition

Leaders of the two newly recognised republics say they already have candidates for the posts of ambassadors. They are also thankful for the recognition of their independence, saying that Russia's position was a key step in their future.

“Initially we were just surviving, constantly under threat – but now we are facing the task of development, the instrument for which are being prepared now,” Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba noted.

He also expressed hope that other countries, including European states, will in time re-think their position, and in his opinion everything will depend on what kind of example the newly recognised republics will demonstrate to the rest of the world.

Shamba's South Ossetian counterpart Murat Dzhioev echoed him saying the republic will work with other countries individually and with international organisations as part of the process in seeking other countries’ recognition of South Ossetia. In his opinion many countries will follow Russia's suit.

Nicaragua recently became the second country to recognise their independence.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko has also spoken about acknowledging South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. He said a decision on the issue would follow a parliamentary election at the end of this month. Belarus has a history of good relations with Abkhazia, and Lukashenko said he was keen to express his full support for Russia's position.

‘Georgia will never get its breakaway regions back’

According to Anatol Lieven, Georgia has no chance of retrieving its former breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“One of the most important things to get through to the West and to Georgia is that they will never get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back,” he said.  

“Anyone who wants to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world has to recognise that. Possibly, if they recognise the independence of these states, they may get a bit of them back. The Georgians might get the Kodori and Gali back,” Lieven added.