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Subject: Tensions increase between Georgia and Russia
Big Bad Pariah    7/12/2004 8:32:26 AM
Georgia warns Russia not to intervene in South Ossetia TBILISI : Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili warned Russia not to support separatists in South Ossetia and said he was holding top-level talks with Moscow and Washington to prevent escalating violence in the breakaway Georgian region erupting into armed conflict. The tiny mountainous province on Georgia's border with Russia has seen a string of clashes this week that have increased tensions between Tbilisi, South Ossetia's self-proclaimed government and Russian peacekeepers, who many Georgians suspect of siding with the separatists. "There is a real danger of large-scale conflict being sparked by a foreign nation," Saakashvili told the national military academy. He warned Russia not to become involved in armed conflict over South Ossetia with Georgia, a former Soviet republic which is openly seeking closer ties with Washington. "I am counting on the good sense of President (Vladimir) Putin and Russia's political and military elite. But if imperialist instincts get the upper hand ... they will find a united population facing them," he said. Although Georgia has pledged not to use violence, the 36-year-old Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia back under central government control, a move resisted by the separatist leadership there and watched warily by Russia. "There is no alternative to peace," he said. "This is the logic of history -- south Ossetia will be an integral part of Georgia and we will live in peace with our Ossetian brothers." Violence flared this week in the breakaway region, which fought a bitter three-year battle for independence from Tbilisi with Russian support after the breakup of the Soviet Union and is now effectively a Russian protectorate. On Thursday separatists briefly took about 40 Georgian soldiers hostage, saying the detained men were troublemakers masquerading as members of the joint Russian, Georgian and Ossetian peacekeeping force. A day earlier Georgian troops impounded two Russian trucks carrying military equipment. Fierce fighting has been raging since Friday around a Georgian-inhabited village in south Ossetia and both Tbilisi and Moscow have vowed to increase troop numbers in the region. Saakashvili, who cut short a visit to Iran this week because of the rising violence in South Ossetia, told a news conference on Saturday he had held crisis talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. "Putin's special representative Lev Mironov arrives in Georgia today. And the secretary of our security council, Guela Bejuashvili, is leaving today for consultations in Moscow," he added. "We are doing everything possible to prevent the conflict worsening." Moscow, which is seeking to prevent its role as regional power broker slipping away to the US, called this week for calm. Russia's foreign ministry on Saturday said it wanted a meeting in Moscow of the Joint Control Commission (JCC), which monitors the disputed region. The JCC, set up after the Russia and Georgia negotiated a ceasefire for South Ossetia in 1992, comprises representatives from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE). But the Russian ministry also accused Tbilisi of stationing in South Ossetia "up to 3,000 security officers ... who have nothing to do with the peacekeeping operation". Last month South Ossetia's separatist leader, Eduard Kokoity, appealed to Russia to recognize his republic as independent. - AFP
 
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Big Bad Pariah    Fighting continues in South Ossetia   8/11/2004 12:51:16 PM
Georgia, South Ossetia clash in overnight battle Moscow -- Fighting broke out overnight between Georgia and the separatist region of South Ossetia, with shots coming from the Georgian positions, not far from the Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, Interfax news agency reported. It was not immediately clear whether there were casualties. The outskirts of Tskhinvali and two Ossetian villages nearby were both under fire. President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to win back control over the pro-Russian region and another Georgian separatist region, Abkhazia, which both broke away from Tbilisi during conflicts in the early 1990s. - AFP
 
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Big Bad Pariah    RE:Fighting continues in South Ossetia   8/27/2004 2:14:43 AM
The crisis continues... Russia, Georgia face war over separatist provinces Areas of ex-Soviet Caucasus have close ties to Russia MOSCOW (CP) ? War clouds are gathering over the former Soviet Caucasus region as Georgia's U.S.-backed President Mikheil Saakashvili moves to re-unite his fractured nation by pressuring two separatist provinces that have close ties to Russia. Daily battles between Georgian troops and local separatist fighters have been reported from South Ossetia, a mountainous region of about 100,000 which straddles the most important pass through the Caucasus Mountains and enjoys close relations with the neighbouring Russian republic of North Ossetia. Last Friday, Georgian troops withdrew from strategic heights they claimed to have seized in fighting the day before, but experts say the conflict is drifting toward fullscale war. "Unless Russia and the U.S. manage this situation very carefully, it can fly completely out of control," says Vitaly Naumkin, director of the independent Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Moscow. "There is no sign that enough attention is being paid to it in Moscow or Washington." Unlike a previous cycle of civil wars in the early 1990s, when the pro-Moscow republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia won de facto independence from Georgia, the current tensions threaten to draw Russia directly into any fresh conflict. The United States, nervous over the security of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline across Georgia which is slated to begin pumping Caspian crude to western markets next year, backs Saakashvili's bid to restore central authority ? as long as it doesn't erupt into open warfare. Saakashvili, a youthful, U.S.-educated lawyer, led a revolt to overthrow former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze last year and was subsequently elected on pledges to end official corruption, rebuild the economy and reunify the country. He scored a major success in May by peacefully driving out the strongman of another wayward Georgian region, Adjaria, and bringing it back under central government control. Saakashvili insists his goal is to extend his democratic "Rose Revolution" and rule of law to all of Georgia. "These current tensions in South Ossetia began as a result of our successful and resolute efforts to put an end to the criminality and illegality that for too long was the norm in the South Caucasus," Saakashvili said last week. Saakashvili has replaced the regular border police with U.S.-trained Georgian troops. Violent incidents between them and Russian "peacekeeping" troops stationed in the area for the past decade appear to be multiplying. Saakashvili accuses Moscow of meddling in South Ossetia, with the eventual aim of annexing it to Russia. Once a single ethnic space, Ossetia was divided between Russia and Georgia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, a symbolic move that carried few consequences within the monolithic U.S.S.R. But as the Soviet Union broke up, South Ossetia declared independence, defeated an invading Georgian army, and petitioned Moscow ? so far unsuccessfully ? for reunification with Russian North Ossetia. Tensions are also on the rise in Abkhazia, a mainly Muslim republic of about 95,000 which, like South Ossetia, is ethnically and linguistically distinct from Georgia. Abkhazia won its independence, with covert Russian aid, following a civil war in the early '90s. The tiny republic is a sub-tropical Black Sea zone of beautiful beaches and soaring snow-capped mountains, where about 700,000 Russians vacation each summer. In early August, Saakashvili ordered the Georgian navy to blockade the region and open fire on any "smugglers" trying to dock. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov lashed back, saying any attack on a Russian vessel would be tantamount to "piracy" and could draw a military response from Moscow. Experts say Russian President Vladimir Putin, who co-operated with Saakashvili's drive to re-incorporate Ajaria into Georgia last May, may find himself hobbled by a myriad of ties that have developed between Russia and the two secessionist Georgian republics over the past decade. Most Abkhazians and South Ossetians have taken out Russian citizenship and earn their living by trading with Russia. "Russian policy under Putin is much more responsible than it was under (former president Boris) Yeltsin," says Irina Zvigelskaya, a professor at the official Institute of Foreign Relations in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats. "But we cannot walk away from these people and the interdependence that have built up between them and Russia, and Saakashvili is not making Putin's position easier by launching all these provocations," she says. "Certain forces in the Russian government believe Russia must not allow itself to show weakness again, especially not in the Caucasus," where Russia faces an ongoing revolt by its own Chechen minority, she says.
 
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