Georgian president promises to reclaim breakaway provinces
Monday, September 8, 2008
TBILISI, Georgia -- On the eve of a European Union shuttle mission to convince Russia to pull its troops back to prewar positions, Georgia's president vowed Sunday to regain control of two breakaway provinces with the help of "the rest of the world."
A month after the Aug. 7 outbreak of war in the region and weeks after a cease-fire was approved, Russian troops remain entrenched deep inside Georgian territory.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in Moscow today as the head of an EU delegation charged with reducing tensions and ensuring Russian compliance with the cease-fire terms, which include withdrawing its troops to positions held before the fighting broke out. Russia says those troops are peacekeepers and that they are allowed under the accord.
Despite the presence of Russian troops on Georgian soil, President Mikhail Saakashvili said the West would help his country regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the separatist regions of Georgia recognized as independent nations by Moscow last month.
"Our territorial integrity will be restored, I am more convinced of this than ever," Saakashvili said in a televised appearance. "This will not be an easy process, but now this is a process between an irate Russia and the rest of the world."
"Our goal is the return of our territory and the peaceful unification of Georgia," he said.
In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who often taunts the West, insisted in an interview broadcast late Saturday that Russia was justified in its intervention in South Ossetia. He said there would be no cooling of ties with the West because the West depends on Russia's oil, gas and mineral wealth.
The West has been reluctant to provoke Moscow, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the EU did not plan to impose sanctions against Russia.
President Dmitry Medvedev declared Saturday that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with" following its war with Georgia.
Russian tanks and troops entered South Ossetia after Georgian forces began an offensive to gain control of the pro-Russian territory, which has had de-facto independence for more than 15 years. The Russians quickly repelled them and drove further into Georgia.
Russia has ringed South Ossetia and Abkhazia with checkpoints the West says violate the terms of a cease-fire Sarkozy brokered.
Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU presidency, is going to Moscow with other top EU officials for a visit Kouchner said was aimed at ensuring Russian implementation of the cease-fire plan. They are also scheduled to visit the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
The EU expects Russia to withdraw its forces to their pre-conflict positions, Kouchner said.
But there has been no sign of Russian plans to do so.
Russia has forces deep in Georgia, including in the Black Sea port of Poti.
At two positions on the outskirts of Poti, light tanks and armored personnel carriers stood Saturday behind a high earthen berms. A razor-wire fence blocked off one of the positions and an excavator dug new holes nearby.
Georgian Orthodox faithful streamed to Mass on Sunday, many praying for lasting peace and an end to what is widely seen here as a Russian attempt to subjugate their country.
"We prayed for peace and for freedom," said Ia Kipshidze, 21, a student who stood with two friends outside the Kashueti church in Tbilisi.