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11 Aug, 2008 15:27

Talks possible only after Georgians pull out - Russia

Another UN Security Council session on the situation in South Ossetia has wrapped up in New York. Russia says it's not refusing to start talks with Georgia but believes negotiations can only be possible when Georgia pulls out its troops from South Ossetia

Georgia has called for humanitarian and diplomatic intervention from the UN Security Council members “to stop aggression coming from Russia.”

“Russian ground troops’ armed invasion has already transformed into a full-scale occupation of parts of Georgian territory. The process of extermination of Georgian population and annihilation of Georgia’s statehood is in full swing,” said Irakly Alasania, Georgian ambassador to UN.

Georgia and the U.S. have also said that what Russia is looking for is a regime change.

But Russia has reiterated that a regime change is actually American terminology.

It has also reminded the UN Security Council that Russia was the first to initiate the urgent meeting on the conflict in South Ossetia back on Thursday.

Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that whatever the policy of the U.S. in this conflict may be, what it surely shouldn’t do is engaging propaganda at such a highly respected body as the UN Security Council.

He also said that Georgia is one of the fastest growing countries in terms of the increase of its military potential. Churkin said Georgia has increased its military budget by 30 times in the last several years.

According to Churkin’s data, 127 military advisors from the U.S. Department of Defense are now in Georgia, not taking into consideration all other advisors. He said Russia hopes rumours that the U.S. gave a green light to Georgia to embark on a military adventure are not true.

According to the Russian side, there are no legal terms to describe the actions of Georgia’s leadership.

“What legal terms can be used to describe what has been done by the Georgian leadership? Can we use ethnic cleansing for example? When about one third of the population of South Ossetia left it during several days and went north risking their lives – is it ethnic cleansing or not? Now, when 2,000 is killed out of the total population of 100,000 – is it genocide or not? How many civilians must die before we describe it as genocide?” Churkin said.

Georgia, the U.S. and some other states call for an immediate ceasefire and Russia says this is far from enough, since Georgian troops are still on South Ossetian territory.

For a solution to be found, Tbilisi must stop playing games and agree to specific step-by-step action.

The U.S. is now expected to propose a draft resolution calling for a ceasefire. But Russia has made it clear – what it wants first is the withdrawal of Georgia troops and an agreement on the non-use of force.

The Security Council will reconvene on Monday.

Shocked mediation mission head aims ceasefire

The French Foreign Minister and head of the European mediation mission, Bernard Kouchner, has witnessed the conditions which the refugees are living in. He's been to see one of the camps in North Ossetia-Alania – a region that's part of Russia and borders South Ossetia.

He said the main goal of his visit is to push for a ceasefire agreement as soon as possible.

“It’s really awful to see all of this. So the emergency is to make peace, to get a ceasefire, that is why we have been to Georgia and now we are going to Moscow: we will try to do it as the presidency of the European Union. President Sarkozy will be in Moscow tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Together we will try to convince Russia and Georgia to impose the ceasefire,” Kouchner said.

Foreign Ministry clarifies Russia’s position 

Russia's Foreign Ministry officials briefed the world’s media on Monday in a bid to explain Russia’s position on the conflict. 

Spokesman Boris Malakhov said Russia was obliged to protect its peacekeepers and citizens in South Ossetia. 

He stressed that ceasefire talks can only take place after Georgian forces have left the breakaway republic.

Responding to US suggestions that Russia wants ‘regime change’ in Georgia, Malakhov said Moscow has no intentions of seeking President Saakashvili resignation as Georgian president.

Malakhov confirmed that hundreds of Russian citizens are trapped in Georgia. 

He said the Embassy in Tbilisi had received “phone calls from Russians, who were on business or on holiday in Georgia”.

"When they tried to leave the country’s territory by car or by train they were detained by the Georgian police and returned to their starting point.

“There are more than 360 Russian citizens in such a situation”, Makakhov said, without elaborating on how they might be returned home.

To watch the full press-conference, please follow link.

NATO concerns

Meanwhile, Russia's actions in South Ossetia have raised concerns from the NATO alliance.

But the NATO itself should be reminded of its so called 'proportional use of force' in Yugoslavia in 1999, says Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin.

“President Saakashvili is not a European. Perhaps to become one he wants to kill another 10,000 of non-ethnic Georgian civilians. As far as the NATO is concerned, we can remind them of what they called in 1999 the ‘proportional use of force’ in Yugoslavia, when the NATO killed thousands of civilians in Belgrade and destroyed bridges over the Danube River while using ammunition prohibited by international conventions,” Rogozin said.

“I understand that the U.S. feel responsible for what Mr. Saakashvili has done. He is their own favourite creation which beneath our eyes is on its way to hell. But I’d like to recommend our US colleagues not to indulge in emotional statements,” he added.