7 Western nations condemn Russian forces in Georgia areas

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Western nations are marking Saturday’s 13th anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Georgia with renewed condemnation of Moscow’s “illegal military presence” in two Georgia regions and calls for the withdrawal of its forces “without delay.”

In a joint statement, six European countries and the United States also condemned what they called Russia’s continuing provocations in Georgia despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They cited Moscow’s reinforced military presence and military exercises on Georgia’s territory, arbitrary detentions and kidnappings of local citizens, restriction of movements and prohibition of education in residents’ native language.

In August 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia, which had made a botched attempt to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian province, Abkhazia, and set up military bases there.

The statement marking the Aug. 7 anniversary of the start of the conflict again calls on Russia to “reverse its recognition of the so-called independence of Georgia’s territories.”

The statement from Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, Albania, the United Kingdom and the United States was read outside the U.N. Security Council chamber on Wednesday after closed-door council discussions.

It noted that in January the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights stated that Russia has been responsible for “grave human rights violations” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia including killing civilians, torturing prisoners of war, preventing Georgians from returning to their homes and failing to investigate rights violations.

The Western nations called for urgent unimpeded access for human rights monitors and humanitarian workers.

Representatives of Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the United States have held talks in Geneva since October 2008 to address the consequences of the Georgia conflict under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union and the United Nations. The talks have made little headway.

The seven nations expressed support for the Geneva talks and stressed “the necessity of a peaceful resolution of the Russia-Georgia conflict based on international law, including the U.N. Charter and the Helsinki Final Act.”

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told reporters that Russian aggression “does not exist” and the “independent uprising in South Ossetia is the reality which cannot be ignored.” He accused some Western nations of directly or indirectly encouraging “Georgian military adventures” in 2008.

Polyansky said Moscow considers it important that Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia continue discussions in Geneva to find a “legal formula for their mutual commitments on non-use of force and for resolution of other urgent matters.”

On Russia-Georgia relations, he said, “We want to express our concern with the continued policy of Tblisi for accelerated Euro-Atlantic integration as well as of this country joining plans of U.S. and NATO on containment of Russia.”

Polyansky said Russia is ready to normalize relations “to the degree to which Georgian side is ready to do that.”

Estonia’s deputy ambassador Andre Lipand, who read the Western statement, responded when asked about the lack of movement from Russia on Abkhazia and South Ossetia: “We will continue to focus on this issue in the (Security) Council and we will not let it go without recourse.”

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