(AFP) – Sep 17, 2008
MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday signed broad cooperation pacts with two rebel regions of Georgia, prompting charges of "annexation" by Tbilisi and fierce condemnation from Washington.
"We will give each other all necessary support, including military support," Medvedev said, after a pomp-filled Kremlin signing ceremony flanked by the separatist leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"We will not allow a new military adventure. No one should have any illusions about this," he said, referring to a Georgian attack on South Ossetia last month that led Russia to launch a massive retaliatory strike.
The agreements allow Russia to open military bases in the two breakaway Georgian provinces and commit Russia to defending the regions from attack. Moscow also promised broad financial support and integration into the Russian economy.
Russia recognised the two regions as independent states on August 26.
"This is a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law.... Russia is de facto annexing these territories," Alexander Lomaia, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, told AFP.
In Washington, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called on Russia to respect Georgia's territorial integrity and urged Moscow to pull its forces back to where they were before the conflict flared up in early last month.
"Our position in support of Georgia's territorial integrity is unchanged," Johndroe told reporters, adding: "We expect Russia to live up to the commitments it agreed to in the ceasefire deal."
Russia has said it will keep 7,600 troops in the two breakaway provinces to ensure security in the region despite an earlier undertaking to withdraw to positions held before the conflict started when Russia had only around 3,000 men there.
"The defence of state borders... will be carried out jointly by the signing parties in the interests of each other's security and of peace and stability in the South Caucasus region," said the text of the pacts signed on Wednesday.
The pacts also foresee the integration of the two provinces into Russia's energy, transport and telecommunications networks, Russian support for their banking systems and the teaching of the Russian language in schools.
Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity thanked Russia in effusive speeches after the signing. Medvedev and the two separatist leaders then drank champagne to toast the newly signed pacts.
No country except Russia and Nicaragua recognises the two regions as independent.
The 10-year agreements follow a symbolic exchange of diplomatic notes last week and are designed to set up the basic framework for relations between Russia and the two regions.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August when Russian troops poured into South Ossetia to repel an attack by Tbilisi's forces.
Russia routed the Georgian troops and set up positions deep inside Georgian territory, subsequently announcing it would withdraw troops to the two regions.
Georgia has fiercely criticised the Russian deployment, saying it amounts to annexation of its sovereign territory, and the complaint has been echoed by Tbilisi's allies in the West who say Russia is redrawing the map of Georgia.
"The option of keeping Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not acceptable," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in an interview published Monday in London's Financial Times newspaper.
The crisis has brought relations between Russia and the West to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry described a visit earlier this week to Georgia by a top-level NATO delegation as "anti-Russian" and said it confirmed Cold War reflexes were "still at work" within the Atlantic alliance.
De Hoop Scheffer visited Georgia with envoys of all 26 NATO member states to show support and inaugurate a new Georgia-NATO cooperation commission. He said Tuesday that the path to NATO admission was "still wide open" for Georgia.
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