I had to Recognise Georgia’s Breakaway Regions
By Dmitry Medvedev
Times" -- - On
Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of
South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or
without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible
outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the
situation - the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples,
their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic
events of the past weeks and international precedents for such
Not all of the world’s nations have their own statehood. Many
exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The
Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious
coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But
some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of
another. Relations between nations living “under one roof” need
to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.
After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the
“loss” of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in
their own right, even though some 25m Russians were left
stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations
were unable to treat their own minorities with the respect they
deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its “autonomous regions”
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.
Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have
their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi
government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper
language or history or culture and so did not need a university?
The newly independent Georgia inflicted a vicious war on its
minority nations, displacing thousands of people and sowing
seeds of discontent that could only grow. These were
tinderboxes, right on Russia’s doorstep, which Russian
peacekeepers strove to keep from igniting.
But the west, ignoring the delicacy of the situation,
unwittingly (or wittingly) fed the hopes of the South Ossetians
and Abkhazians for freedom. They clasped to their bosom a
Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose first move was to
crush the autonomy of another region, Adjaria, and made no
secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.
Meanwhile, ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed
to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from
. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after
that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other
groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo
Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you
cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the
Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the
Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night
of August 7-8 we found out why.
Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe
Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on
the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful
civilians, most of them Russian citizens? Did he believe Russia
would stand by as his “peacekeeping” troops fired on Russian
comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble
in South Ossetia?
Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This
was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian
territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from
which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the
peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South
Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples - not when Mr Saakashvili
continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and
some other Nato members) to talk of rearming his forces and
reclaiming “Georgian territory”. The presidents of the two
republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.
A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account
the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian
peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations
charter and other documents of international law, I signed a
decree on the Russian Federation’s recognition of the
independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope
that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship
and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care
about their country and who develop mutually respectful
relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready
to support the achievement of such a goal.
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