26 August 2008


26 August 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations said he had just told Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the decision taken today by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize the independence of the contested territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Vitaly Churkin said the Secretary-General was already aware of the content of President Medvedev’s letter, as, according to instructions, it had been passed on to the Secretary-General’s Office at 4 a.m. this morning.  At approximately noon today [local time in Moscow], the Russian President had signed decrees recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A statement had been issued in Moscow by the Foreign Affairs Ministry providing a detailed explanation of the circumstances, an unofficial translation of which Mr. Churkin read out to correspondents and had circulated in the briefing room.  It reviews recent events and the Russian Federation’s position on them.

The statement, which reviews peacekeeping efforts by Russian forces in the breakaway provinces throughout the 1990s to the present, says that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had continually overtly ignored Georgia’s commitment and arrangements within the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and had established “puppet administrative institutions” for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so as “to drive the final nail into the coffin of the negotiating process”.

Russia, the letter states, consistently followed its policy, performed its peacekeeping and mediating functions in good faith, sought to contribute to attaining peace agreements and showed restraint and patience in the face of provocations.  Its positions remained intact even after the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

The letter goes on to say that, by the aggressive attack against South Ossetia on the night of 8 August, which had resulted in numerous human losses, including among peacekeepers and other Russian citizens, and by the preparation of a similar action against Abkhazia, Mikhail Saakashvili, repeatedly using brutal military force against the peoples whom he said he would like to see within his State, left them with no other choice but to ensure their security and the right to exist through self-determination as independent States.

One should not forget, says the letter, about the role of those who had been conniving for years with the militarist regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, who had been supplying offensive weapons to him in violation of OSCE and European Union rules, who had been discouraging him from assuming obligations not to use force, who had been fostering a feeling of impunity in him, among other things, regarding his authoritarian actions aimed at stamping out dissent in Georgia.

“We know that at some stages the external patrons of Mikhail Saakashvili tried to prevent him from reckless military adventures; however, it is obvious that he completely went out of control,” the letter further states.  The “vague hopes” for the implementation of the joint initiative of the Presidents of Russia and France of 12 August “soon vanished into thin air” when Tbilisi essentially rejected the initiative, and the advocates of Mikhail Saakashvili did his bidding.

Moreover, the letter continues, the United States and some European Union States promised Mikhail Saakashvili the protection of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for rearming the Tbilisi regime and even started delivering new shipments of weapons.  “This is an overt invitation to new reckless ventures.”

Replying to a question about the Russian President’s assertion that efforts to end the conflict peacefully had been opposed at the United Nations, Mr. Churkin said he would not conjecture about the reasons, but in the Security Council, for weeks before the Georgian aggression, the Russian delegation had tried to work out a presidential statement calling for the signing of a legally binding agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia on the non-use of force.  However, “our western colleagues” in those negotiations had constantly tried to attach other issues.  For example, they had tried to emphasize the return of refugees.  While valid, that was not a priority issue.  Now, developments showed that the Russian side was right in having tried to do everything possible to prevent the possible use of force.

He said his country still subscribed to the six principles.  If the correspondent wanted to “play the blame game”; those principles contained a direct reference to the starting of international discussions on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  That had been dropped at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- he thought on the advice of his American advisers.  So, they were the ones who had immediately started walking away from that diplomatic opportunity.

Almost immediately, he said, French and other colleagues had brought in a text on a “rock bottom” confirmation of the principles of territorial integrity.  The six principles of the agreement were there; the Russian side respected those, but a certain “diplomatic history” had followed after 12 August.

As for Russia’s plans to annex South Ossetia, he said that was not on the agenda.  What was on the agenda now was to talk with the relevant Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities to work out an agreement on establishing diplomatic relations and work out a treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia.

How much had the decision of the western Powers to recognize Kosovo’s independence play into Russia’s decision today? another correspondent asked.  Mr. Churkin said it had created certain dynamics, and Russia had been warning that, since Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence had come on the horizon, it had been providing additional impetus to all those working for their independence.  But, he personally believed that Abkhazia and South Ossetia had many more reasons and much better legal ground for their independence than Kosovo; they had a much stronger case.

Georgia’s use of force against South Ossetia had clearly dashed all Security Council resolutions and created a completely new reality, he replied to another question.

“This is not tit for tat, and, in fact, to make sure you take it in, I would not be, if I were you, holding [my] breath and expectation that Russia is going to recognize Kosovo.  This is not going to happen,” he responded to another question.  That had only provided a precedent for all those who wanted independence.  As for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia was resisting pressures, but the wave of history had become very clear and unavoidable after the military adventure of Saakashvili against South Ossetia.

Regarding Chechnya, the Russian Federation had never stripped it of an autonomous status as Georgia had done to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it had never called Chechnyans Russians, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia had never been a source of terrorist threat to Georgia.  That combination of circumstances made the situation in Chechnya completely different.

There would be more discussions with the United Nations about the role of its observers in “the context of Abkhazia” and with OSCE in “the context of its observers in South Ossetia”, he responded to another question.  The Ministry of Defence had been instructed, pending conclusion of the treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between Abkhazia, Russia and South Ossetia, that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation conduct peacekeeping duties in the territory of Abkhazia.

He said the leadership of the United States and Germany had reassured that of the Russian Federation that there were no plans to enlarge NATO to take in countries from Eastern Europe.  Georgia’s obvious emphasis on its relationship with NATO alarmed the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because, to them, that was another indication that there was an intention to use force to impose on them an unwanted solution.  That had created certain frictions between Russia and Georgia, but had nothing to do with the latest developments.

On how quickly Russia had decided to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he said they had been urging Russia to recognize them for years.  The Russian Federation, in fact, had displayed “remarkable patience” in that regard.  Two weeks after the recent developments, however, everyone could understand the political importance being attached by all in Russia to that issue, both in the Federation Council and the State Duma -- the two chambers of the Federal Assembly -- which had voted unanimously in support of that recognition.

As to what to do next in the Security Council, he said he had not as yet received any instructions.  As far as he knew, neither had the other Council members.

Asked whether the current situation might escalate into a new cold war, he said he did not see it going that way.  A rather difficult period lay ahead in the discussions, but if it went in the direction of aggravating relations –- which would not be Russia’s choice -– the cold war was “a completely different beast, when we were at each other’s throats in a big way internationally, and this is not going to happen under any circumstances these days”.

He said he had suggested during Security Council consultations last week that representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia be invited [to the Council] and nobody had objected.  So, as far as he was concerned, the Council had given approval to their arrival in New York to meet with Council members.  Eventually, he was sure they would have membership in the General Assembly.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.