Russia Voices Ongoing Support for Georgia’s Separatist Enclaves

Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign minister declared that the world “can forget about” Georgia’s territorial integrity as the crisis between the two countries continued to unfold.

The Kremlin said Thursday that Medvedev met with the leaders
of Georgia’s two pro-Russian separatist provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia
— a possible signal that Moscow could absorb the regions.

“You defended your land and justice was on your
side,” Medvedev said in televised remarks at the meeting. “That is
why you won … with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers … I think that is
an appropriate outcome.”

“Russia’s position is unchanged: we will support any
decisions taken by the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in accordance with
the U.N. Charter … not only do we support but we will guarantee them”
Medvedev said, according to the New York Times.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments on
Georgia’s territorial integrity appeared to come as a rebuke to the United
States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty
and territorial integrity of Georgia.

“One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s
territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South
Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into
the Georgian state,” Lavrov told reporters, according to Reuters.

Moscow also faced tensions with Georgia’s ally Ukraine over
the movements of Russia’s Black Sea fleet after Ukraine’s President Viktor
Yushchenko said Russian warships must obtain permission before entering or
leaving their base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

“We have one general commander for the Black Sea fleet.
It is the president of Russia. And all commands from outside are illegitimate
to us,” Russian Colonel-General Anatoly Nagovitsyn told a news conference
in Moscow.

The United States stepped up its role in the crisis
Thursday, pouring humanitarian aid into the Georgian capital of Tbilisi
Thursday while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took part in emergency talks
on the conflict in France before heading to Tbilisi.

“The United States of America stands strongly, as the
president of France just said, for the territorial integrity of Georgia,”
Rice said following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the
Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Georgian and Russian troops faced off at a
checkpoint outside the key Georgian city of Gori, putting further strain on the
fragile truce agreed to Tuesday to end the dispute. Reports also emerged of
Russian troops and tanks moving in or around at least three Georgian towns on

But Russia said its troop actions within the former Soviet
state did not violate the French-brokered peace agreement, which contains a
provision allowing Moscow’s forces “to implement additional security
measures” while arrangements are made for international peacekeeping
monitors .

Two planned U.S. aid flights arrived in Tbilisi late
Wednesday and Thursday, carrying supplies for refugees displaced by the
fighting, the AP reported. The shipment arrived on a C-17 military plane,
illustrating the U.S.-Georgia military cooperation that has helped fuel
Russia’s dissatisfaction with its small neighbor.

Speaking in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates
described a broad humanitarian effort for displaced Georgians. He said there
isn’t any need for U.S. fighting forces there, although the relief effort is
being run by the U.S. military, according to the AP.

Gates told reporters he believes Russia has decided “to
punish Georgia for daring to try to integrate with the West.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he was
concerned about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and lack of access for
aid workers in volatile parts of country.

Ban also said Wednesday he was prepared to contribute to
peacekeeping arrangements in Georgia’s two breakaway regions and to help
facilitate peace talks.

“The U.N. stands ready to facilitate international
discussions as well as to contribute to possible peacekeeping or other
arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Ban said in a statement,
according to Reuters.