Russia blocks U.N. Security Council draft on Georgia
The draft called for an immediate Russian military withdrawal
Veto-holding Russia blocked U.N. Security Council action on the Georgian crisis on Tuesday, refusing to support a Western-backed draft resolution calling for an immediate Russian military withdrawal, according to Reuters.
Even though Moscow has said it will withdraw, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council the resolution should include and endorse a six-point peace plan promoted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and signed by both Georgia and Russia.
Since the French-drafted text did not do this, "the Russian Federation will not be able to support (it)," he said.
The council meeting ended with no attempt to put the resolution to a vote and French and other Western officials declined to say whether they would do so, a move that would almost certainly provoke a Russian veto.
The draft, circulated to council members shortly before the meeting, also calls for the return of Georgian forces to their usual bases and demands full and immediate compliance with the cease-fire both countries have subscribed to.
It also refers to "the territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders" -- a concept Russia says is now obsolete because two Moscow-backed breakaway enclaves refuse to be re-integrated into Georgia.
The crisis erupted after Georgia sent its military on Aug. 7-8 to try to recapture one of those enclaves -- South Ossetia -- and Russia responded with overwhelming force, sending troops and tanks deep into Georgia.
In a direct challenge to Moscow`s view, U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff told the council South Ossetia and the other breakaway region of Abkhazia were clearly part of Georgia. "There`s no room for debate on this point," he said.
In a switch of tactics, the four-sentence French draft replaced a longer text that had been under negotiation for some days with Russia and would have endorsed the six-point plan.
U.S. and French U.N. envoys told reporters they had dropped the original resolution in favor of the new one because Russia had not implemented the peace plan it had agreed to.
"The important thing here is an adherence to the undertakings that Russia has signed onto," Wolff told reporters. "It has been several days since the agreement was signed and we don`t see any signs of significant Russian withdrawal. That is the point of this resolution."
French Deputy Ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix told reporters France wanted to pursue the peace plan, "but in order for this plan to be implemented, there is an essential prerequisite which is withdrawal of Russian forces."
But Churkin told journalists he was "quite amazed" at the French change of tack, saying the call for an immediate Russian withdrawal was "not the language of the six principles."
Some Russian tanks and armored vehicles left the key Georgian town of Gori on Tuesday but NATO said it was freezing contacts with Moscow until all Russian forces were out of the Black Sea state.
The Kremlin quoted President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday as saying Russian forces would pull back by Aug. 22 to the positions set out under the French-brokered cease-fire.
That would require most of them to withdraw to Russia or South Ossetia, where Russia has long kept what it calls peacekeepers. But parts of the force, under the deal, would remain in a buffer zone around the breakaway region.
Churkin said that for Russian troops to withdraw, "two things are necessary. One is the pullback of Georgian forces to their barracks. ... We have not seen that happen yet ... and secondly we need to be assured that our peacekeepers are not going to be attacked again."