Kremlin slaps down South Ossetia over claim it will join Russia

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Thu Sep 11 14:47:37 UTC 2008

Kremlin slaps down South Ossetia over claim it will join Russia

Hannah Strange

Russia today slapped down its would-be satellite state of South  
Ossetia after the leader of the breakaway Georgian province claimed it  
would become part of the Russian Federation.

No sooner had Eduard Kokoity, president of the tiny enclave, alarmed  
Western powers by announcing it sought to join Russia, than the  
Kremlin issued a strenous denial and forced him to reverse his  

South Ossetia was recognised only a few days ago as an independent  
state by the Kremlin following last month?s bitter war. But Mr Kokoity  
said this morning that independence was no longer his goal. Instead he  
told a group of western journalists and academics that his aim was  
reunification with his countrymen across the border in North Ossetia,  
becoming part of Russia.

?We will be part of the Russian Federation,? he said. ?It [South  
Ossetia] is not going to be an independent country.?

The move, if it ever went ahead, would effectively mean Russia would  
be annexing part of another country?s territory by force. It would be  
likely to provoke an angry response from Georgia, its ally America and  
other nations concerned about the redrawing of the map of the Caucasus.

But the Kremlin moved quickly to dismiss Mr Kokoity?s claims. Sergey  
Lavrov, the Russia foreign minister, told reporters in Warsaw that  
South Ossetia wanted to stay an independent state.

?South Ossetia is not intending to link up with anybody,? he said.  
?They have understood that without a declaration of independence, they  
cannot ensure their own security.?

Mr Kokoity later backtracked on his earlier statements in an interview  
with the Russian news agency Interfax.

?I have probably been misunderstood,? he was quoted as saying. ?We are  
not going to relinquish our independence, which we won at the cost of  
colossal sacrifices, and South Ossetia is not going to become part of  

But he acknowledged: ?Yes, many in South Ossetia are talking about  
reunification with North Ossetia within Russia, and nobody can ban  
expressing such ideas.?

Initially, Mr Kokoity had argued that he was simply trying to redress  
an historic injustice that divided the Ossetian nation. He insisted  
that the move did not represent a threat to the region?s stability,  
but was simply fulfilling an oath undertaken by his ancestors in 1774  
to remain loyal to the Kremlin.

Whatever the reason, the move would exacerbate tensions at a time when  
the international community had hoped that the crisis in the Caucasus  
was calming down.

This week President Nicolas Sarkozy of France finalised a peace deal  
with President Dimitry Medvedev that should entail the complete  
withdrawal of all Russian troops from undisputed Georgian territory  
and the deployment of 200 European Union monitors to observe the  

Since then, however, Russia has announced that it plans to base 7,600  
troops in the two breakaway provinces. Meanwhile the US is drawing up  
plans to rearm the Georgian military which was badly mauled in last  
month?s conflict.

President Kokoity?s announcement that he was willing to renounce  
independence in favour of joining Russia was in contrast to President  
Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia. He said that his tiny coastal statelet was  
determined to become fully independent under international law, even  
if its sovereignty has so far been recognised only by Russia and  

The leaders of both of the Georgian breakaway regions were united on  
one point, however. They both rejected any talks with the Government  
of President Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian leader. Both men said  
that no compromise was possible while he remained in power.

?Georgia must not make another war,? said Mr Bagapsh. ?Georgia dances  
well, plays football well but war is not their thing.?

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