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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responds to David Miliband speech on Georgia - South Ossetia, 27 August 2008

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov Commentary on the Speech of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Kyiv on 27 August 2008.

I would like to say a few words about the latest statements of our western partners concerning what is happening in the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz conflicts and, of course, can't pass over the remarks of my counterpart David Miliband in Kyiv today. Not that I was strongly amazed because I know David quite well and know his style, but, of course, certain things simply compel me to clear them up.

Miliband starts by saying that "the Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening," and declares that "the sight of Russian tanks in a neighboring country on the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring" has shown that "the temptations of power politics remain." Surely, you as the ones watching the events know that it was not at all the "appearance of Russian tanks in a neighboring country," but the attack by the Georgian army using Grad volley-fire systems, aviation, and artillery on the peaceful city of Tskhinval that triggered all these events. I don't think that Mr. Saakashvili had planned this to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring. But he was perfectly aware that the Olympic Games were opening that day, this is a fact. The Olympic truce that had been declared by the General Assembly was flouted most crudely by Saakashvili.

Further Miliband says that all of this speaks of our - Russian - attempt to redraw the map of the region. It should be noted that this map consists inter alia of the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz zones of conflict; consisted, at least, at the moment of Georgia's aggression. These zones were governed on the map by the agreement that had been signed by, among others, Georgia and which Saakashvili treacherously tore up.

David Miliband laments the "need for all to abide by international law." I am not even going to comment on this. I think it's not exactly natural to hear things like this from his lips, or his appeals for "democratic governance," for that matter. We know what the regime of Saakashvili really is. Know how his western backers, London included, used to forgive him everything and not only in what he was doing to the South Ossetians and Abkhaz, continuously provoking them, as well as continuously staging provocations against the Russian peacekeepers. But they also used to forgive him for the dispersals of demonstrations, the brutal restrictions on opposition activities, and the shutdown of opposition media. I will remind you that he was also forgiven, which no one does so much as hint at, the broadcasting of all Russian television channels from the very start of his aggression against South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He does not want his people to know the truth. Apparently, when Mr. Miliband is talking about democratic governance, he also means this kind of anomalies.

Mr. Miliband also said that NATO was "an anchor for stability, democracy and economic development." I have not heard that NATO is engaged in democratizationism, but, apparently, the times are changing. I leave this without comment, as I do his effusive statements about "the cost of division in Europe." A hint made that this is precisely what Russia is currently engaged in.

I think that NATO's incomprehensible, unwarranted expansion leads precisely to such division. But apparently those championing such expansion would like to divide Europe after they have seized as much territory as possible. This is a well-known policy. Surely, we are also familiar with the long telegram of George Kennan. The quotation which Miliband has found in it by no means constitutes the principal thought that Kennan tried to convey to the government of the United States. I hope Mr. Miliband will read this telegram in full. Maybe then his attitude to dealings with Russia and other states will be somewhat different.

One more comment on the factual side of it. He says Russia has invaded a sovereign country, blockaded Georgian ports, blown up bridges and tunnels. Where did he take that? God only knows. Somewhere, true, Miliband bashfully says that now it is not the time to argue about who fired first, and that there are serious allegations leveled against both sides. Yet there are the testimonies of journalists, international representatives, the civilians who lost their kith and kin due to Georgia's attack. So the bashfulness and some ambiguity are absolutely inappropriate here and hypocritical with regard to those who came under attack in the middle of the night and sustained enormous losses.

A separate story is his pathetic appeal for the need to live up to the terms of the ceasefire, agreed by Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy. So many conjectures have already appeared around this story that I would like to clear things up once and for all. The six principles agreed by Medvedev and Sarkozy are their common position, which was addressed to the parties in conflict. Russia is not a party in conflict. We together with the French colleagues edited these principles; they are addressed to Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and remain fully valid. But from the moment these principles were approved at the Kremlin and publicly announced to reporters the text began to be continuously modified in favor of Mr. Saakashvili's wishes.

Having flown from Moscow to Tbilisi, Sarkozy called Medvedev and asked that one part of the text be corrected that spoke about the need to examine the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After which Saakashvili refused to sign this document all the same. . He did sign it eventually, when Condoleezza Rice had brought him a letter from Sarkozy, but he signed it not fully, without the introductory part. Later on they began telling us that the letter of Sarkozy was an integral part of the deal, and that it had been agreed with us. This is not true. The letter had not been shown to us, and we had merely been informed by phone that President Sarkozy was going to write such a letter. We said, in this event, the letter had no practical or legal significance for the six principles. If it was just to persuade Saakashvili, then for God's sake this was up to you. He's your fosterling, and if efforts are required to get him to at last sign beneath the demand not to start war anymore, we will not object. But Sarkozy's letter to Saakashvili was not to be part of a legally binding agreement.

Of course, the version of the six principles that Saakashvili signed contains a gross distortion of the last item. The Russian and French presidents agreed on the task of ensuring the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And Saakashvili signed the text that has modified the very meaning of this item and speaks of "ensuring security in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia."

Now this is a thing of the past and has no significance whatsoever, because security within South Ossetia and Abkhazia will from now on be reliably ensured by their own security forces and by the Russian peacekeepers who are there in response to the direct request of the independent states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

It was very interesting to read the statement of Mr. Miliband about the need to unite Europe on the basis of a rejection of the use of force. Let us not forget that during the last year Russia had been insisting that the nonuse of force become the subject of separate legally binding agreements by Georgia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Mr. Saakashvili flatly refused, declaring that he "never will raise a hand against my own people," which he apparently considered the South Ossetians and Abkhaz, too. And when we nevertheless asked his western friends to make him sign such agreements, we found no support either in Washington or in London or in a number of other European capitals which had and apparently still have some influence on him.

Now I move to what Mr. Miliband puts forward as an "agenda for Russia." He says that we need to answer "three critical questions." First, we need to clarify our attitude to the territorial integrity of our neighbors. We have long ago clarified it: we recognized them all without any problems after the breakup of the Soviet Union. We recognized them despite the colossal indignation in our public opinion over the voluntarism with which certain territories were turned over from the Russian Federation to other republics of the former Soviet Union. We granted recognition, in particular, even despite the fact that the Georgian side had declared its independence while grossly violating the right of the autonomies within Georgia in this case to determine their status independently. Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Adzharia were the autonomies of Georgia, but the Georgian leadership deprived them of this status.

So it had been the Georgian leadership, from Mr. Gamsakhurdia on, that had been consistently undermining the territorial integrity of Georgia in this case. And Mr. Saakashvili, by using armed force against the people whom he, according to his statement, considered a part of his people, has just definitely and conclusively settled this issue. As to Russia, we are absolutely committed to the principle of the territorial integrity of all our neighbors who think of it within a legal framework.

The second question addressed to us by Mr. Miliband concerns the need for Russia to clarify its attitude to the use of force to solve conflicts. I have already answered it. We are against the use of force to settle conflicts everywhere, including in Yugoslavia, in Iraq and also in Iran, where there is no conflict, but there is more and more talk going on about this. We are against the use of force both in the Middle East and in the Caucasus region. It is Mr. Saakashvili who is for the use of force to settle conflicts in violation of all the agreements that bear among others the signature of the Georgian leadership.

The third question which Mr. Miliband puts to us is that Russia needs to ask itself about the relationship between short-term military victories and longer-term economic prosperity. In his speech Mr. Miliband has answered this question himself, quite contradictorily, by suggesting that we should be punished, but in such a way as not to harm the interests of Britain and other western nations. That is according to the principle "we will take gas, but on the terms which we will explain to Russia ourselves."

It is good that on the issue of energy security David Miliband recognizes the principles that were agreed on at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg two years ago and which are based on the interdependence and mutual responsibility of suppliers, consumers and transiters. All the problems that arose with gas supplies to Europe were not connected with any breach of our contractual obligations (we have never, ever, been responsible for such breaches), but with transit country problems. And when the EU partners tell us about the need to agree on an early warning mechanism so that such cases do not occur anymore, we say: "By all means, but let us draw transit countries into this discussion because all the interruptions of supply to Europe occurred solely because the transit countries one way or another siphoned gas off that was going to Europe while having no operative contracts with Russia for the supply of gas to them. We are interested in solving these issues, but let us at least once be fair in approaching a particular problem."

But probably the most interesting thing is what action options by the West he suggests. Here is a point which I would like to note specifically. David Miliband declares the need to review relations with Russia in international institutions, mentioning the G8, the Russia-NATO Council, Russia-EU relations and Russia's upcoming entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I can say only one thing: Russia is interested in partnership in these and other structures to the same extent that our western colleagues are interested in this. The trouble is that a tendency has recently begun to show itself in the G8 and in the Russia-NATO Council and in our relations with the EU, when a bloc is built against Russia. Although we agreed to cooperate in all these mechanisms on an entirely different basis of "one country, one vote," so that bloc interests do not prevail over the profound, basic national interests of each participant. We know that standing in the path of this are those who make all the participants of this or that mechanism to follow bloc discipline precisely.

One of the recommendations of Mr. Miliband is that the "end of Empire" should be sought by all means, along with a peaceful settlement of conflicts in the post-Soviet space. He mentions Transnistria and Nagorno Karabagh. I think that he should not be very much concerned about this. In neither case is Mr. Saakashvili the active participant, there are no crazy leaders there who would be preoccupied with destroying their own states and settling the conflicts by the use of force, as the leadership of Georgia did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. So I would like to reassure David Miliband on that score.

By and large I want to say that his speech is rather strange. There is seemingly the acknowledgement of the need for dialogue with Russia in it. But the terms on which Mr. Miliband intends to promote this dialogue hardly make his intentions promising in the slightest.

Telephone contacts between members of the Russian leadership and our western colleagues, including at the highest level between presidents, prime ministers and chancellors, have almost daily been taking place during these days. There was such a conversation between President Medvedev and Federal Chancellor Merkel today. It was a normal, businesslike conversation that concerned their specific assessments of the real situation that has evolved. That's precisely how this conversation was described in the Kremlin press service report. But what was our astonishment when we received the text that was read out on the results of this telephone conversation by the spokesman of the FRG Government, Mr. Ulrich Wilhelm. I can say only one thing: In the conversation there were no "demands" made of Russia, there were no "sharp condemnations," no words of certain "flagrant violations." We leave all that to the conscience of those who prepared summary comments on that conversation.

In conclusion I shall note the following. We are always open for dialogue. We ourselves inform our partners in advance of all the proposed steps that one way or another may affect their interests. Thus, for example, our President had before we took the forced, but the sole possible decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia at their request and in response to our Parliament's appeal, in response to public opinion in Russia, warned his major partners, including Madame Merkel, that that statement was being prepared. We are open to communicating daily, hourly, to answering all questions. If the aim of telephone and other contacts with us is a sincere interest in searching for ways to normalize the situation, we will always be open for this as well. If, however, the calls are made only with the objective of later announcing to the media that "demands were made of Russia" and that "Russia was condemned," this, of course, can also be done via press secretaries.

Source: Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, www.russianembassy.org.

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