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Europe

European Press Review: Russia's Relations With West in Free Fall

European editorials are pessimistic about international security after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev decided to recognize the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

An anti-Russian propoganda poster

The West has broadly condemned Moscow

"Russia's de facto incorporation of parts of another State is brutal, but it is also unambiguous," wrote the Financial Times Deutschland . "There will be no need for the EU to bother trying to reach an amicable solution or discussing the deployment of peacekeepers in the Caucasus at its upcoming emergency summit this week. After yesterday, the subject is closed. There is simply no point trying to negotiate with Russia, and it would be the wrong thing to do, even if it there were. The EU cannot discuss easing visa restrictions or economic cooperation when the other side is proving that it sees international agreements as mere scraps of paper."

The Süddeutsche Zeitung wondered what the next development will be. "It is unclear how Russian and the West will claw their way out of the worst crisis (in relations) since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Right now, they are in free fall. And that happened because Moscow chose to demonstrate how it is possible for a government to win a military victory at the same time as digging its political grave. For weeks, Moscow has been working itself up into an isolationist frenzy, venting all sorts of grudges believed to be long forgotten, with the government and its leader burning all the bridges they had so carefully built…"

The daily Berliner Zeitung condemned Medvedev's decision: "The Russian leadership has referred to the right of nations to self-determination. It is worth reminding them that the 1989 census in Abkhazia revealed that living alongside Armenians and Russians, 48 percent of the population were Georgian and only 17 percent Abkhaz. By 2005, there were 45 percent Abkhaz and just 6.5 percent Georgians. The reason for this development: 200,000 of 250,000 Georgians either fled during conflicts in the 1990s or were driven out. In South Ossetia, only 29 percent of the population in 1991 were Georgian. They all fled after Russia's military strike on Georgia. So when the Abkhaz and South Ossetians announce independence based ostensibly on a law of nations, Russian recognition amounts to sanctioning an expulsion of people that violates the law of nations."

"Anyone still wondering about the motives for Russia's war against Georgia must have realized what is going on by now," wrote Spain's center-right daily El Mundo. "Moscow made its decision long ago. Protecting the Ossetians against massacre was just an excuse to send its tanks into Georgia's breakaway regions. Russia is using military might to redraw the map in the Caucasus. The West is watching this sorry spectacle unfold -- this strategy of the fait accompli. But Europe and its allies are obligated to defend Georgia's integrity. The EU must translate its words into action and take a hardliner stance against Moscow."

In Paris, conservative daily Liberation was similarly convinced that the West needs to get tough with Russia: "The Russian president's decision to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions is sheer provocation (...) These two "states" only exist thanks to the petro-dollar and the Russian army. Whether in South Ossetia or Abkhazia, thousands of Georgians in these regions have fallen victim to ethnic cleansing. Their "governments" made up of collaborators are mafia-like creations of the Russian secret service. The "ministers" in South Ossetia are retired Russian generals. What can be done about it? Moscow's actions must be condemned, obviously. But first and foremost, we need to see a debate about future relations between the West and Russia."

But left-leaning British broadsheet The Guardian suggested that Moscow might actually be playing straight into the hands of Mikheil Saakashvili: "In defiance even of Germany and France, which adopted the most even-handed approach to the Georgian conflict, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There was little pressure on him to do so. Both provinces have been independent from Tbilisi since 1991, when the last hothead Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, tried to seize them. Recognition will not make either the Ossetians or the Abkhaz sleep safer in their beds. It will not do anything to stop the ethnic cleansing of Georgian villages in these enclaves, which the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, condemned yesterday….. Russia's actions are handing Georgia a military alliance with the west on a silver platter. This is the glittering strategic prize for which Mikheil Saakashvili, the nationalist Georgian president who ordered his troops to attack Tskhinvali, has been toiling day and night. It is a prize that he may consider to be worth the sacrifice of two parts of his country."

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