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Moscow Times
August 27, 2009
Putin Slams U.S. on Rebel Regions’ Birthday
By Anatoly Medetsky / The Moscow Times

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia by saying more governments will eventually defy U.S. “pressure” and establish diplomatic ties with the tiny separatist regions.

In an event timed to the anniversary, Gazprom opened a pipeline snaking through high mountain ridges to feed gas to South Ossetia, which lifted the region’s dependence on deliveries through Georgia proper.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia after a brief war with Georgia last August that began when Georgian troops attempted to retake South Ossetia. None of Russia’s allies have followed suit, and Nicaragua is the only other country to recognize the regions’ independence.

Putin attributed the lack of progress to U.S. influence over the world.

“What is happening now … attests to one thing: Not many members of the international community use their sovereignty in the full sense of the word,” Putin said at a news conference. “All of them, being under pressure from one superpower, the United States, are executing its political will without penetrating ­ and not wishing to penetrate ­ the gist of the events.”

But things will change with time, he said, speaking with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity at his side after they emerged from talks.

“I am sure that the situation will gradually change because no one wants to be a vassal,” Putin said. “Cold War-era thinking in terms of blocs will gradually dissolve in the reality of modern times.”

The statement drew skepticism from some Western analysts.

“I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s highly unlikely,” said James Nixey, a Russia and Eurasia research fellow at Britain’s Chatham House, referring to the chances of broader international recognition. “If Putin can’t convince states close to Russia … it’s a bit of a bluff.”

Putin made a point of saying Wednesday that Russia had left the issue up to its allies from the very beginning.

“We never pushed or asked anyone to recognize the independence of these two republics,” he said. “I want to stress this: We never asked anyone.”

After the talks with Kokoity, Putin said Russia, despite the global economic debacle, would not withdraw any of the funding that it had promised to South Ossetia to fill its budget and rebuild its post-war economy. Russia sent 2.8 billion rubles ($89 million) to the region’s budget this year. It set aside another 8.5 billion rubles for the reconstruction of schools, hospitals and roads this year, of which 3.5 billion rubles has been spent so far, Putin said. Russia is ready to consider more subsidies if necessary, he said.

In another sort of aid, Gazprom built a pipeline that will carry a modest 250 million cubic meters of gas to South Ossetia every year at such a height ­ at one point reaching 3,148 meters above sea level ­ that Kokoity said it belonged in the Guinness World Records. Gazprom warned that the pipeline could rupture at times because it runs through avalanche-prone areas.

Kokoity said South Ossetia was “immeasurably” thankful to Moscow and stressed that it aimed to stay independent of Russia, responding to what he described as “false rumors” to the contrary from the West.

Andrew Wood, the British ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000, said Russia and South Ossetia might not be one country but their leaders are now in many ways more dependent on each other than a year ago.

“It is difficult to see how that may change in such a way that South Ossetia can become a genuinely independent and widely recognized entity contributing to a more stable Caucasus,” he said.

Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, agreed that the region would remain largely under Russia’s political and economic reign in the foreseeable future, saying it will enjoy “little room to maneuver.”

Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh also expressed gratitude to Russia on Wednesday but stayed home for the celebrations.

Nixey said Abkhazia was a more viable state and required less attention from Moscow in comparison with the more economically ruined and politically unaccomplished South Ossetia.

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