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U.S., European Countries Call On Russia To Withdraw From Georgian Territory

The United States and other countries marked the 11th anniversary of the Georgian-Russian war by calling on Moscow to withdraw from Georgian territory. (file photo)

The United States and five European countries have marked the 11th anniversary of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia and urged Moscow to withdraw its military forces to the positions held before hostilities broke out.

In a joint statement issued on August 8, the UN ambassadors of the United States, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, and Britain expressed support for Georgia's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

The statement was released after a closed UN Security Council consultation session.

Separately, the U.S. State Department urged Russia to reverse its recognition of the "so-called independence" of two Georgian breakaway regions and that "we will not stop working until Russia ends the occupation of sovereign Georgian territory."

In 2002, the Kremlin began granting Russian citizenship to residents of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- a policy that helped raise the number of Russian passport holders there from about 20 percent to more than 85 percent of the population.

Then, when Russia went to war against Georgia in August 2008, the Kremlin justified its deployment of Russian military forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by saying those forces were needed to protect Russian citizens in the separatist regions.

Then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who established close ties with the United States and the EU in a bid to diminish Moscow’s influence on his country, launched an offensive to reclaim South Ossetia on the night of August 7-8, 2008. He says Tbilisi was provoked by Russia and the separatists.

Russia responded with a counteroffensive in which its forces routed the Georgian military and swept beyond South Ossetia, which Tbilisi has not controlled since 1990, and deep into Georgian territory before withdrawing.

Following the five-day war, Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Tbilisi with Kremlin support.

Only a handful of countries have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which comprise around 20 percent of Georgian territory, and Moscow’s backing of the regions has drawn broad international condemnation. Russia has maintained troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the war.

The six countries signing the statement at the UN said they were "extremely concerned" about Moscow's deepening security relationship with the two areas, as well as the "intensification of the so-called borderization process."

They asserted that the actions were prolonging the conflict and destabilizing Georgia and the region.

They called on Moscow to respect and implement accords signed on August 12 and September 8, 2008, which include "commitments to ensure that armed forces withdraw to positions held before hostilities began, and to establish an international security mechanism."

Dmitry Polyansky, Russia's deputy UN ambassador, told reporters that Georgia paid "a big price for this tragic mistake" committed by Saakashvili, "and we see that the only way to make relations in the Caucasus prosper and to ease all the tensions is now through the dialogue between Georgia and two independent states."

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused "official Tbilisi and its Western supporters" of fanning "anti-Russian hysteria, saturating the region with weapons, and unceremoniously pulling Georgia into NATO."

With reporting by AP, TASS, and Interfax