Russia signs treaty to defend Georgia separatists

A050721917.jpgMOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed treaties with Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Wednesday that commit Moscow to defend the breakaway regions from any Georgian attack.

The treaties formalize military, diplomatic and economic co-operation between Moscow and the separatist regions, which Russia recognized as independent states after its brief war with Georgia last month.

In Tbilisi, a senior Georgian diplomat said Russia had annexed sovereign Georgian territory, and a U.S. State Department official said Russia should honor previous commitments it had made to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Western states accused Russia of a disproportionate response after it sent its troops into Georgia last month and then recognized the two regions.

Moscow said it had a moral duty to act to defend them from what it called a genocide by Georgia’s military in South Ossetia, which had tried to retake the region by force.

“The documents we have signed envisage that our countries will jointly undertake the necessary measures for counteracting threats to peace … and opposing acts of aggression,” Medvedev said after a lavish signing ceremony in the Kremlin.

“We will show each other all necessary support, including military support,” Medvedev said.

“A repeat of the Georgian aggression … would lead to a catastrophe on a regional scale, so no one should be in doubt that we will not allow new military adventures.”

NATO “ENCOURAGING ADVENTURES”

Western states have angered Russia by backing Georgia over the conflict. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused NATO of Cold War thinking after the alliance held high-level talks in Tbilisi this week.

“We cannot view steps to intensify relations between the alliance and Georgia any other way than as encouragement for new adventures,” the ministry said in a statement. Georgia wants to join NATO, an ambition Russia opposes.

Medvedev signed the treaties with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh. Afterwards, they shook hands and toasted each other with champagne.

The two separatist leaders were given all the trappings accorded to sovereign heads of state, with their regions’ flags displayed in the Kremlin and an announcer introducing them to guests in their national languages.

Only Nicaragua has followed Moscow’s lead and recognized the enclaves as independent, despite a diplomatic drive by Russia to persuade its allies to grant them recognition.

“This is an unconcealed annexation of these territories by Russia. The rest is just a masquerade,” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria told Reuters when asked to comment on the treaties.

“It’s a violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi, said Russia should respect Georgia’s borders. The United States is Georgia’s closest big-power ally.

“It (Russia) needs to live up to its years and years of commitments, including under numerous Security Council resolutions, to Georgia’s territorial integrity,” Bryza said.

Moscow plans to base about 7,600 troops in the two regions, and the separatists already receive substantial economic support from the Russian government.

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