U.N. takes up Russia-Georgia crisis over downed drone
The Security Council meets today to discuss Tbilisi's allegation that Russia shot down its spy aircraft. Moscow says the drone's flight over the breakaway region of Abkhazia violates a cease-fire.
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On Friday President Vladimir Putin showed an entirely different face, ordering the removal of two-year-old sanctions that blocked imports of Georgian products, imposed severe visa restrictions on Georgians, and closed down postal links between the two countries. "This is convincing evidence of Moscow's constructive policy toward Georgia and its persistent efforts to restore traditionally friendly ties with Georgia," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.Skip to next paragraph
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'No united position' in Moscow
"What we see here is that there is no united position [in Moscow] about what to do with Georgia," says Artyom Malgin, head of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at Moscow State University for International Relations. "Do we want to cultivate a united, friendly Georgia, or should we put our stake on those pro-Moscow separatist statelets?" he says. "It looks like Putin himself cannot decide which course would be better for Russia."
Sunday's destruction of the Georgian drone over Abkhazia illustrates how unexpected events can throw complicated diplomatic maneuvers into confusion, experts say. Saakashvili has taken Georgia's case to the UN, arguing that Russia is guilty of "military aggression." Moscow, which has blamed the missile on Abkhazian rebels, says that none of its warplanes were even in the air over the Black Sea region on Sunday.
"It's a very dangerous development, and it's even possible that some non-state actors arranged this in a bid to destabilize the situation," says Mr. Malgin.
Russia appears to be engaging in a similar double game toward Ukraine. According to the Moscow daily Kommersant, Mr. Putin told US President George Bush during a closed door meeting in Bucharest early this month that "Ukraine is not even a state!" Citing inner Kremlin sources, the paper said Putin told Mr. Bush that the Ukrainian territory of Crimea was illegally transferred from Russia to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, and that Russia might move to take it back if Ukraine attempts to join NATO.
Though the Kremlin has offered no comment on the accuracy of that report, several leading Moscow politicians, and the Russian Army's Chief of Staff General Yury Baluyevsky, have made similar hints publicly. "The Ukrainian leadership has to understand that any attempt [to take Ukraine into NATO] gives Russia the right to raise several issues, including the issue of Crimea," Alexei Ostrovsky, chair of the Duma committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States, told the Monitor Tuesday. "The majority of people who live in Crimea are [ethnic] Russians who do not want to join NATO."
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry issued an angry riposte last week, demanding that Russia "stop making threats against Ukraine." The statement added that "it's becoming increasingly apparent that [joining NATO] is the sole method of guaranteeing the security of our state."
Says Mr. Lukyanov: "This is a psychological war. Moscow knows there are a lot of doubts within Europe about pressing ahead with NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia at the price of ruining relations with Russia. Now Russia is making moves to demonstrate just how high that price might be."