Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on September 29 at a conference on the southern districts of Russia. The move will most likely add fuel to increasing Russian-Georgian tensions sparked by a spy row between the two countries.
Sergey Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, leaders of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, participated in roundtable discussions on the “Economic Development of Southern Russia.” The list of participants, which was posted on the Russian President’s official web-site, included Kokoity and Bagapsh under the section “Foreign Guests.”
“I would like to specially salute our foreign guests. These are: Sergey Vasilevich Bagapsh – the President of Abkhazia… Eduard Jabievich Kokoity – the President of the South Ossetian Republic…” President Putin said in his opening remarks at the conference. The list of foreign guests also included the governors of Armenia’s two regions and officials from the Ukraine’s Crimean Autonomy.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on September 30 that Russia’s move to invite secessionist leaders to a high-profile event hosted by the Russian leadership is a move by Moscow to incite separatism.
On September 30 (while Abkhazia celebrated independence day) parliamentarians from breakaway Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestria signed an agreement in Sokhumi envisaging the creation of a Parliamentary Assembly with the headquarters in Moscow.
In New York, Russia continues its efforts to convince the UN Security Council to condemn Georgia’s recent moves in upper Kodori Gorge, breakaway Abkhazia.
In addition, Russia wants the UN Security Council to condemn Georgia’s “anti-Russian policy,” which Russian officials say has been shown by the detention of four officers charged with espionage.
But U.S. Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack indicated on September 29 that Washington is not in favor of referring the issue to the UN Security Council.
In other developments, Gen. Alexander Baranov, the commander of the Russia’s North Caucasus military district, said on September 30 that Russia has suspended its withdrawal of troops from Georgia.
But officials in Tbilisi have downplayed the Russian army general’s threat as part of Moscow’s “hysterical” response to the arrest of the spy suspects.
“The Russian military will leave Georgia in accordance to the schedule…No one can stop this process,” Defense Minister Irakli Irakli Okruashvili told reporters.
On September 30 Russia continued the evacuation of its Embassy staff from Tbilisi, and now reportedly only two diplomats and their security guards remain in the Embassy.
Also on September 30 Georgia called on Russia give up plans of large-scale navy maneuvers on the Black Sea which, according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, will be held in Georgia’s exclusive economic zone “in the immediate proximity of the Georgian territorial waters.”
“[The maneuvers] will restrict the operation of Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi, Poti and Supsa, causing serious damage to Georgia’s economic-trade interests,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on September 29 that the planned maneuvers pose no security threat to Georgia. Speaking with Imedi television on September 29 Okruashvili said that Russia is responding with “hysteria” to the detention of its military officers. He also suggested the possibility of extraditing the four officers to Russia.
“They [the Russian authorities] have only one resource at their disposal: to convince our foreign friends to [recommendto ] us to show good will and expel these people [spy suspects] from the country,” Okruashvili said.