Russia: The Kremlin Tries to Put on Brave Face Following Diplomatic Slap over Georgia
The Kremlin received a rude diplomatic surprise on August 28, when some of its closest allies offered only a tepid endorsement for Russia's incursion into Georgia, while reaffirming the principle of the territorial integrity of states. Moscow now finds itself more diplomatically isolated than ever over its continuing military presence in Georgia and its recognition of the independence of the separatist entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russian leaders headed into the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe a group comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan expecting to receive unqualified support for its recent actions in Georgia. Instead, they were on the receiving end of a stinging rebuke over Moscow's hasty recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence.
"The participants [of the SCO summit] underscore the need for respect of the historical and cultural traditions of each country and each people, for efforts aimed at the preservation, under international law, of the unity of a state and its territorial integrity," the alliance's statement said.
Using convoluted language, the SCO member states appeared to sanction Russia's incursion into Georgia, but seemingly admonished the Kremlin for taking things too far. SCO members "support the active role of Russia in assisting peace and cooperation in the region," the statement said, going on to stress an ongoing need for "peaceful dialogue."
"Placing the emphasis exclusively on the use of force has no prospects and hinders a comprehensive settlement of local conflicts," the statement said.
In formulating the statement, China and Central Asian states appeared reluctant to get drawn into a fast-moving diplomatic showdown between the West and Russia, and thus endangering economic relationships with Washington and Brussels. In addition, for a country like China, which is grappling with its own separatist movement in western Xinjiang Province, Russia's recognition of Georgia's two breakaway entities is an especially unwelcome development.
Although the statement fell far short of the Kremlin's expectations, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tried to put a positive spin on it. "I hope it [the SCO statement] will serve as a serious signal to those who try to turn black into white," Medvedev said.
US officials hinted that the SCO statement generated pressure on Russia to find a way to reverse its decision on Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence. "Clearly there is unhappiness at what Russia did," US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
The European Union is aiming to increase the pressure on Russia. EU members are scheduled to meet on September 1 to discuss Russia's actions on Georgia. The top priority of that gathering, according to EU representatives, will be to forge consensus on how the EU should respond to Russia's actions. On August 28, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner indicated that the EU could debate the imposition of sanctions on Moscow.
Meanwhile, it appears that the international pressure is starting to fluster Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose unconcealed contempt for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is widely believed to be a major factor in Russian decision-making. On August 28, Putin accused the Bush Administration of engineering Georgia's confrontation with Russia so as to influence the outcome of the looming US presidential election.
"If my guess is right, then it raises the suspicion that someone in the United States deliberately created this conflict in order to worsen the situation and create an advantage ... for one of the candidates for the post of president of the United States," Putin said during an interview broadcast by the US news network CNN.
US officials laughed off Putin's conspiracy theory. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the claim "just not rational."
Following Putin's lead, the Russian government, in the wake of the SCO snub, appears to be hardening its stance on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Vienna, Russia's envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Anvar Azimov, said Moscow's decision to recognize the separatist entities' independence was "irreversible."
Moscow also seems to be growing desperate in its search for diplomatic support. On August 28, Belarus, a pariah state that has close relations with Russia, indicated that it would soon follow Moscow in recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
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