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Russia Recognizes Breakaway Georgian Regions

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Russia has officially recognized the independence of two regions of Georgia. That decision escalates the standoff between Russia and Western leaders, and it violates Russia's ceasefire with Georgia.

Today, from his ranch in Texas, President Bush issued a statement condemning Russia's announcement. He said granting the two regions independence, quote, "exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations."

In a moment, we'll hear reaction from Georgia. First, to NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: The timing of President Dmitry Medvedev's nationally televised announcement was a surprise, coming just one day after Russia's parliament called on him to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: Russia's French-brokered ceasefire with Georgia states that the region's status would be decided in future negotiations. But a stern Medvedev today said Georgia's attack against the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali earlier this month gave South Ossetia and Abkhazia the right to choose their own status.

Medvedev said he had no choice but to sign decrees recognizing their independence.

President MEDVEDEV: (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: The Georgian authorities methodically prepared for war, Medvedev said. Georgia never planned to solve this conflict peacefully. President Mikhail Saakashvili chose genocide to solve his political tasks.

Russia's invasion of pro-Western Georgia, in response to Tbilisi's attack on South Ossetia, caused a serious rift with the West. Moscow's moved to redraw the map of the Caucasus Mountains region today prompted a wave of international condemnation, but speaking to reporters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the possibility Moscow would face international isolation.

Foreign Minister SERGEY LAVROV (Russia): No, I don't believe this should be really a doomsday scenario. I believe common sense should prevail.

FEIFER: Although many analysts said today's decision was a payback for the West's recognition of Kosovo's independence, Lavrov rejected the connection, saying the circumstances were completely different.

In another breach of Russia's ceasefire with Georgia, Lavrov said Russian troops would remain indefinitely on Georgian territory, outside the two breakaway regions. He said the ceasefire allowed Russia to undertake additional security measures.

Foreign Minister LAVROV: Which is absolutely crucial to monitor the Georgians and to send another warning if they start a new military adventure.

FEIFER: Russian troops are stationed at Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti, which is far from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and where Washington says a U.S. war ship will unload humanitarian aid tomorrow.

Speaking to the BBC today, Medvedev accused the United States of smuggling weapons into Georgia. But despite Western countries' criticism of Russia, they have very little leverage over Moscow. Medvedev told Russian television today Moscow is not afraid of a new Cold War.

Analyst Kuril Rogov(ph) says the Russian authorities have made a conscious decision to stop Russia's integration with the West.

Mr. KURIL ROGOV (Analyst): (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: Today's announcement is a bomb in Russia's relations with the West, he said. It's been detonated to make sure Russia doesn't follow a more liberal, pro-Western path.

Rogov said today's decision would adversely affect Russia's development and international standing for years to come.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.