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Official Says 'Civilized' Georgia Cannot Follow Russia's Example

Alexandre Lomaia heads Georgia's National Security Council
Alexandre Lomaia heads Georgia's National Security Council
TBILISI -- As tensions mount between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the head of Georgia's National Security Council has stressed that Tbilisi remains committed to a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the crisis.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Alexandre Lomaia accused Moscow of being at the root of some of Georgia's thorniest problems and "dedicate[d] creating problems for the international community."

While some attempt to develop nuclear weapons or finance terrorism, Russia, he said, is "a big, strong power that creates problems for its relatively small neighbor by attempting to annex parts of its territory."

"It is very unfortunate that Russia chose to be part of the group of states that create problems, rather than try to solve them," Lomaia said. "In our case, the problems were, without any doubt, created by Russia. But Georgia, as a civilized state, obviously cannot follow this example. Our hopes are based on the ability of the international community to persuade or oblige Russia to return to the existing rules of interstate relations."

Lomaia's comments came as the European Union signaled it would back more intensive international mediation to defuse tensions over Georgia's breakaway regions.

Speaking in Brussels on July 11, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said a model like the quartet of Middle East peace negotiators was needed to bring together Tbilisi and Russia with other parties such as the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Ferrero-Waldner raised the possibility of armed conflict "if we don't defuse these tensions" in the conflict zones.

Georgia has been engaged in a protracted standoff with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which sought independence from Tbilisi in the wake of the Soviet collapse and which enjoy substantial support from Moscow.

'Frozen' No More

An already tense situation reached the boiling point last week when a bomb blast on July 6 killed four people, including a regional security chief and a UN translator, in a cafe in the Abkhaz town of Gali. Abkhaz officials have accused Georgian Interior Ministry officials of plotting the blast; Tbilisi has strenuously denied the claim.

A volley of angry rhetoric also continues over the flight of Russian military jets over South Ossetia. Russia, which first denied the reports, has since confirmed that four of its planes briefly circled over South Ossetia late on July 9. Moscow defended the act, saying it was meant to head off a possible "invasion" of the region by Georgian troops.

"The peace in South Ossetia was hanging by a thread [on July 9]. We can say with absolute certainty today that a military operation against South Ossetia was planned to begin at [6:00 p.m.]," Dmitry Medoyev, South Ossetian envoy to Russia, told a Moscow news conference in an effort to back the Russian claim. "The situation was saved only thanks to the flights of the Russian airplanes over the Georgian positions, after which the Georgian soldiers scattered."

Georgia's National Security Council has denied claims of a troop movement, and warned that further overflights would not be tolerated.

Lomaia said Moscow's willingness to acknowledge the flyovers -- which came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was flying to Tbilisi for talks -- is an "unprecedented" new tactic in Russia's relations with Georgia.

"It's up to political analysts to discuss possible motives," Lomaia told RFE/RL. "We've already qualified this act -- in accordance with the UN Charter -- as an act of aggression. And you don't need to be a clairvoyant to assume that this will also be qualified by the UN as an aggressive act -- an act that is intolerable in relations between two sovereign states."

Friends Indeed?

The overflights coincided with the arrival of Secretary Rice in Tbilisi for talks on the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili joked grimly that the jets might have been meant as a "salute" to Rice. Georgia subsequently recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations.

During her visit, Rice noted Russia's status among the UN's so-called Friends of the Secretary-General for Georgia and added that Moscow "really needs to behave in that way, which means that it needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem, and not contributing to it."

Observers say the mounting tension over Georgia's breakaway regions has more to do with Moscow's resentment of Tbilisi's NATO bid and less with the independence aspirations of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.

Despite threatening military retaliation if Russia continues its flyovers and troop buildup in the regions, Georgian officials like Lomaia say they are trying to stay focused on a peaceful negotiated settlement of the breakaway conflicts.

"Any successful plan must be based on three fundamental principles, which are all present in president Saakashvili's peace initiative and which, I would like to stress, has been completely shared by Secretary Rice: de-escalation, demilitarization, and development," Lomaia said. "Georgia cannot propose any peace plan to anyone without including a guarantee for its territorial integrity. But in the framework of this integrity we have to think how high the level of the sovereignty can be, which part of this sovereignty could be delegated to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. This is subject to negotiation."

He said that Tbilisi was prepared to offer Georgia's separatist regions "the highest standard of autonomy known to modern international law."

Lomaia added that a "major representative of a major European country" was due in Georgia this week to address resolution of the breakaway conflicts and to discuss Saakashvili's proposed peace plan for Abkhazia.

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