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In U.S., Russia's Top Diplomat Tries To Combat Fears

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is in the U.S. to address the UN General Assembly.
NEW YORK (RFE/RL) -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used an eagerly awaited appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on September 24 to spell out Russian foreign policy in the wake of the Georgian crisis.

Before his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Lavrov had a "polite" meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Lavrov and Rice were meeting for the first time since the brief war that broke out between Russia and Georgia in early August, after which Rice warned that Moscow was ushering Russia into "self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance."

Lavrov is in the United States to deliver Russia's speech to the UN General Assembly as concerns mount over global financial uncertainty, an apparent stalemate over how to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear activities, and a host of questions stemming from Moscow's recent invasion of Georgia and quick recognition of independence for two Georgian republics.

It is international concern over Moscow's actions in Georgia that dominated Lavrov's appearance at the New York-based foreign-policy institute.

Lavrov suggested to political experts and analysts that the Georgian crisis had been given too much significance and argued that it should not be used as a tool to raise tensions in otherwise "constructive" relations between Moscow and Washington.

"We don't believe it's right to make very the important items on our agenda hostage to the emotions and to feeling of being offended. There should be no such feeling," Lavrov said. "We acted [in Georgia], as I said, on the basis of international law, we have been protecting the lives of the Russian peacekeepers who had been attacked by their Georgian comrades, because there was a joint peacekeeping force."

He added that "a combination of reasons -- first of all, moral, legal, [and] pragmatic" made Russia's military intervention in Georgia "the only possible solution."

Moscow has asserted that its forces entered Georgia and its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to "enforce" peace and prevent a "genocide" against ethnic non-Georgians.

Tbilisi fiercely disputes that view, accusing Moscow of methodically unleashing a war of aggression that has included atrocities against ethnic Georgians in occupied zones.

Asked whether disagreements over Russia's role in the conflict heralded the return of a Cold War mentality in U.S.-Russia relations, Lavrov said that talk of security without backing it up is simply rhetoric.

Lavrov told the New York audience that "we could not tolerate" Georgian activities in its breakaway regions, adding, "If all this talk about 'responsibility to protect' is going to remain just talk -- if all this talk about human security is going to be used only to initiate some pathetic debate in the United Nations and elsewhere, then we believe this is wrong."

Asked whether Russia felt threatened by color revolutions that have brought pro-Western leaders to power in neighboring states, Lavrov reminded the audience of the failures of a historic revolution that took place on Russian soil.

"We don't feel threatened by this phenomenon," Lavrov said. "We believe that this is not right -- for a democracy to make revolutions the beacon of promoting democracy. We tried it, you know, in 1917, and what came out of it? And that revolution was a 'red' revolution, as you know. Another color."

Continuing the same theme, Lavrov asked rhetorically how Ukraine's Orange Revolution and the Rose Revolution that preceded it -- in which he said election results were "torn and thrown away by revolutionary action" -- differed from the 1917 revolution.

Lavrov also developed an argument that stemmed from Moscow's decade-long policy of offering Russian citizenship to residents of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He said the strategic principles of Russian foreign policy stipulate the protection of Russian citizens -- wherever they are -- if their human or civil rights are violated or if they are discriminated against in any way.

Describing the Georgian central government's attempt to subdue the South Ossetian capital by force as a "bloody aggression launched by [Georgian] President [Mikheil] Saakashvili," Lavrov said people have to choose. "You either support those who killed hundreds of Russian citizens, including peacekeepers serving under international agreement, or you don't support such people," Lavrov said.

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