Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Russia building 'Berlin Wall' in Georgia: FM

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said Wednesday that Russian forces were erecting a "Berlin Wall" as part of a campaign to cut off rebel regions from the rest of the country.
Russia is trying to divide Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia, she said in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London.

Tkeshelashvili said Russia was building a wall at Zugdidi, a city at the Abkhaz border.

"Russia physically destroys physical links between the regions of Georgia," she said. "It is blowing up bridges in Gali region so that it is harder for people to go to the neighbouring region of Samegrelo.

"In Zugdidi city, for that matter, they are building a wall which will be not perhaps the size of the Berlin Wall but is something resembling that.

"The same goes for South Ossetia with which the roads and then bridges are being blown up. In physical terms, they try to dismember these regions in such a way that there's a physical detachment of these regions.

And she warned: "If Russia is allowed to continue along the way, that would damage the process of talks and negotiations."

Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on August 8 to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, which had received extensive backing from Moscow for years.

Russian forces occupied swathes of the country, but later withdrew to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent states.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday she would not insist on granting NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine at the military alliance's ministerial meeting in Brussels next week.

Tkeshelashvili, 31, said Georgia still aspired to join Western community frameworks.

"It's not NATO membership that unnerves Russia," she said. "It's the very fact of the independence of Georgia and the possibility of independence of other countries (formerly under Moscow's control).

"The blackmailing of Russia cannot be successful."

She added: "If Russia is allowed to be effective in reinstating the Soviet Union, it will be a danger not only for Georgia."

Outgoing US President George W. Bush was a staunch ally of Georgia during the August war with Russia.

But despite Washington cooling its support for a formal path to help Georgia join NATO, Tkeshelashvili said she was not worried about the incoming US president-elect Barack Obama being less attentive to Georgia.

"There are no concerns of that type attached to the situation," she said.

"We have had very interesting consultations with the possible new administration and then with the president-elect himself."

Both Obama and vice president-elect Joseph Biden had made a "very firm commitment to the cause of Georgia's independence and sovereignty" on a number of occasions.

Key members of the incoming administration have "a very full understanding what is the situation in the in the region, what are the challenges ahead, what needs to be done," she said.

"I don't think that there will be any chance of fading interest from the United States."

Copyright AFP 2008, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium

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