Kremlin slaps down South Ossetia

18:41, 11 September 2008
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over claim it will join Russia

Russia today slapped down its would-be satellite state of South Ossetia after the leader of the breakaway Georgian province claimed it would become part of the Russian Federation, according to Times Online.

No sooner had Eduard Kokoity, president of the tiny enclave, alarmed Western powers by announcing it sought to join Russia, than the Kremlin issued a strenous denial and forced him to reverse his statement.

South Ossetia was recognised only a few days ago as an independent state by the Kremlin following last month’s bitter war. But Mr Kokoity said this morning that independence was no longer his goal. Instead he told a group of western journalists and academics that his aim was reunification with his countrymen across the border in North Ossetia, becoming part of Russia.

”We will be part of the Russian Federation,” he said. “It [South Ossetia] is not going to be an independent country.”

The move, if it ever went ahead, would effectively mean Russia would be annexing part of another country’s territory by force. It would be likely to provoke an angry response from Georgia, its ally America and other nations concerned about the redrawing of the map of the Caucasus.

But the Kremlin moved quickly to dismiss Mr Kokoity’s claims. Sergey Lavrov, the Russia foreign minister, told reporters in Warsaw that South Ossetia wanted to stay an independent state.

“South Ossetia is not intending to link up with anybody,” he said. “They have understood that without a declaration of independence, they cannot ensure their own security.”

Mr Kokoity later backtracked on his earlier statements in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax.

“I have probably been misunderstood,” he was quoted as saying. “We are not going to relinquish our independence, which we won at the cost of colossal sacrifices, and South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia.”

But he acknowledged: “Yes, many in South Ossetia are talking about reunification with North Ossetia within Russia, and nobody can ban expressing such ideas.”

Initially, Mr Kokoity had argued that he was simply trying to redress an historic injustice that divided the Ossetian nation. He insisted that the move did not represent a threat to the region’s stability, but was simply fulfilling an oath undertaken by his ancestors in 1774 to remain loyal to the Kremlin.

Whatever the reason, the move would exacerbate tensions at a time when the international community had hoped that the crisis in the Caucasus was calming down.

This week President Nicolas Sarkozy of France finalised a peace deal with President Dimitry Medvedev that should entail the complete withdrawal of all Russian troops from undisputed Georgian territory and the deployment of 200 European Union monitors to observe the ceasefire.

Since then, however, Russia has announced that it plans to base 7,600 troops in the two breakaway provinces. Meanwhile the US is drawing up plans to rearm the Georgian military which was badly mauled in last month’s conflict.

President Kokoity’s announcement that he was willing to renounce independence in favour of joining Russia was in contrast to President Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia. He said that his tiny coastal statelet was determined to become fully independent under international law, even if its sovereignty has so far been recognised only by Russia and Nicaragua.

The leaders of both of the Georgian breakaway regions were united on one point, however. They both rejected any talks with the Government of President Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian leader. Both men said that no compromise was possible while he remained in power.

”Georgia must not make another war,” said Mr Bagapsh. “Georgia dances well, plays football well but war is not their thing.”

Times Online

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