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Russia’s few friends united while the West divides

By David Matsaberidze
Wednesday, September 17
Russia has vacated almost all the territories it was obliged to leave under the six point ceasefire agreement, but is still refusing to fully comply with that agreement. It is trying to maintain its “buffer zones,” at least until the arrival of the EU observance mission, and will not leave Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as its army will be deployed on these territories to “ensure stability and security.” Although facing almost complete international isolation, and the real threat of ejection from the Council of Europe, Russia has decided to set its face against the EU and NATO.

Russia's representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has said that a Cold War has begun between the European Union and NATO, quoting the statement of the NATO Secretary General in which he maintained that “the document signed by the Presidents of France and Russia on September 8 was unacceptable.” “Scheffer has made it clear that the EU has suffered pressure for its moderate position towards Russia”, Rogozin stressed.

The situation remains very tense in the occupied territories. A curfew is in force in Gali, Abkhazia. After 6 p.m. the local Georgian population refrains from going out of their houses. They are scared of the military vehicles and units of the Russian Army, who have been pulled out of Poti and Senaki but are now stationed in Gali. Additional forces have also been deployed to Chkhorotsku and Kanti, who have been telling local residents they are not going to leave and expect more soldiers to join them. Local people are unable to do their agricultural work, such as bringing in the nut harvest. Russian military hardware is still in position in Gagida, Pichori and Otobaia, and the occupiers are continuing to entrench themselves despite the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

Russian occupiers have killed 75-year-old Anatoly Gobechia, a civilian from the village of Zemo Barghebi. While Russians were deploying military hardware to the region one of their vehicles hit the old man, who was riding a bicycle. After the collision, the aggressors clashed with the man and shot him in the head. After the murder a tank full of Russian aggressors drove off the road and fell from a bridge between the villages of Gagida and Pichori. Three Russian soldiers died as a result.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has released information about the number of cultural monuments in and around the Tskhinvali Region and Gori damaged by bombings raids, ground attacks, arson and looting carried out by Russian forces and Tskhinvali separatists. A full survey of all the damage has not yet been possible, as the group of experts which has been mandated by the Ministry of Culture of Georgia to carry out the survey cannot gain access to the zones controlled by the Russian forces. But the extensive pattern of damage clearly suggests that this destruction is at the very least tolerated by Russian forces, and almost certainly carried out as part of a deliberate policy of cultural destruction. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminds the Russian Federation that any intentional damage to cultural heritage sites is a breach of the international commitments which both Georgia and the Russian Federation have signed, such as those contained in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflicts and the 2003 UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural heritage.

As a result of its actions and non-compliance with the French-brokered agreement, Russia may face ejection from the Council of Europe, Georgian Ambassador to the Council of Europe Zurab Chiaberashvili has stated. The Ambassador said that 24 members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly have signed a proposal to suspend Russia’s membership.

“With this the parliamentarians express their concern about the Russian aggression against Georgia and very seriously condemn the Russian occupation of Georgia. They are determined to discuss whether the Russia's behaviour contradicts fundamental principles of the Council of Europe,” Chiaberashvili stressed. The assembly will meet on September 29 to discuss the proposal.

The separatist regimes are going out of their way to display their loyalty to Moscow. Abkhazian separatist leader Sergey Bagapsh accompanied Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he returned from Georgia's breakaway regions to Moscow yesterday. Bagapsh arrived in Moscow to formalise a friendship and cooperation treaty with Russia. The documents will be signed in a few days, Russian President Medvedev having already issued a decree to this effect. This is in spite of Lavrov confessing that Russia exaggerated its use of force during the military operation in Georgia. He said in mitigation that it was difficult to determine targets in war. ''There were non-regulation activities by both sides, but it was a war. When you see that the enemy has opened fire at night, and you are not marching but running to help Tskhinvali, it is difficult to fire exactly as much as is necessary,'' Lavrov said after his return from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

Russian MPs are downplaying the NATO Council’s visit to Georgia. The Vice-Speaker of the Russian Duma says that NATO has no connection with Russia and therefore no authority to make statements regarding Russian bases in Georgia. The Chairman of the Russian Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachov, sees links between the intensification of NATO relations with Georgia and United States policy. He says that, “Washington is trying to abolish existing agreements with the help of the Alliance.”