Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree recognizing the independence of Georgia's rebel regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite pressure from the West to honor Georgia's territorial integrity.
Medvedev called on others to recognize the provinces' independence
"In the current crisis it became necessary to make a decision," Medvedev said in a nationally televised statement Tuesday, Aug. 26. "Taking into consideration the will of the people and guided by the UN Charter of 1970 ... and other basic international law, I have signed a decree recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"It is not an easy choice, but it is the only way to protect the lives of civilians," the president said after meeting with Russia's security chiefs.
Medvedev signed a second decree Tuesday instructing the Russian foreign ministry to establish diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and sign partnership agreements with them.
Ties ice over
Resident of Gori, South Ossetia, received aid after their city was devastated
The move is likely to deepen the wedge in Russia's relations with the West, which views South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of Georgia. Russian stocks fell Tuesday, with traders anticipating an increase in international tension.
The world now faces new rifts, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS news agency Tuesday.
"The risk of a new schism has arisen. There is a growing threat of global chaos," Gorbachev was quoted as saying in reaction to the crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticized the decision Tuesday. Speaking on a visit to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, Merkel said Medvedev's decision was "absolutely not acceptable" and ran "contrary to international law."
"We must by consequence react united as the European Union," Merkel said.
She also stressed support for stronger relations between the EU and Georgia, including making it easier for Georgians to obtain visas to the bloc.
"Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO," the chancellor said. Russia has sharply opposed NATO's eastward expansion, and both countries' bids were turned down by alliance leaders earlier this year. The matter is to be reconsidered at a summit in December.
Merkel said, however, that dialogue between NATO and Russia should continue.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also rejected Medvedev's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He questioned whether Russia was truly interested in peace and security in the Caucasus region, according to a statement.
"This is in direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia's territorial integrity, resolutions that Russia itself has endorsed," de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement read out by his spokeswoman.
On the eve of something bigger
France, which brokered the cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia, also criticized the Kremlin's decision.
The Georgian offensive was compared to the murder that set off World War I
"We consider this a regrettable decision and I recall our attachment to the territorial integrity of Georgia," said a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry.
Just prior to Medvedev's announcement, the European Union had expressed its opposition to recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, compared the current situation to Europe in 1914 on the eve of World War I, "when, because of one terrorist, leading world powers clashed," he told the RBK Daily business newspaper. War broke out after Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in August 1914.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is unlikely to be subjected to international isolation.
"I don't think we should really be afraid of isolation," he told reporters in English. "I don't believe this should really be a doomsday scenario. I believe common sense should prevail."
Accusations of genocide
In his statement issued Tuesday, Medvedev condemned Georgia's offensive to reclaim South Ossetia earlier this month.
"On the night of August 8th, Tbilisi had a choice: (Georgian President) Saakashvili opted for genocide," said the Russian president. "With this choice Saakashvili wiped out all hope of a peaceful coexistence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia under one government."
The West has largely opposed recognizing the provinces
Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war over South Ossetia with Russia's army moving deep into Georgia after repelling the Georgian offensive.
On Tuesday the Kremlin convened the security council at the president's Black Sea residence in Sochi to review a plea by Russia's parliament for recognition of the two Georgian breakaway regions. Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was also in attendance.
The United States, a staunch ally of Georgia, rebuked Russia's parliament over the resolution Monday, saying it was "deeply concerned."
The European Union, which has been critical of Russia's military involvement in Georgia, has called for a special summit on Sept. 1 to discuss the crisis in the region.