Russia warns Georgia over breakaway region

Russia said on Tuesday it would not be indifferent if violence escalated further in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, Interfax news agency reported, quoting a senior Russian diplomat.

Russia has accused Georgia of using excessive force in South Ossetia, but Nato said it was ”not aware of any troop concentrations by Georgia in or near South Ossetia”.

The breakaway region is at the centre of a row between Russia and Georgia, which Nato says will one day join the alliance. The West fears tensions could trigger a war.

”If events develop according to the worst-case violence scenario, Russia will not allow itself to remain indifferent, considering that Russian citizens live in South Ossetia, particularly in the conflict zone,” Interfax quoted special ambassador Yuri Popov as saying.

Georgia, which has angered Russia by pushing to join Nato, lies at the heart of the Caucasus — an unstable region which hosts a pipeline pumping oil to Europe from Asia.

Popov heads Russia’s delegation to a joint commission trying to resolve the conflict in South Ossetia. He said senior South Ossetian and Georgian officials were due to meet on Thursday.

Popov made his statement after several days of clashes in South Ossetia, in which at least six people were killed. Separatists said Georgian forces shelled the regional capital Tskhinvali, deliberately targeting civilians.

Georgia denies the accusation, saying its forces were only returning fire. ”Georgia believes peace talks are the only way to settle conflicts,” Georgia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.

But Tbilisi also accused Moscow of ”deliberate support of separatist regimes on Georgian land”.

Call for cool heads
Nato said on Tuesday it was not aware of any troop build-up by its ally Georgia in or near the country’s breakaway South Ossetia region and called on all parties to reduce tensions.

Nato spokesperson Carmen Romero said the alliance was closely following the situation.

”Nato has seen the reports of the violent confrontations in the Georgian region of South Ossetia in the last few days, which caused a significant number of casualties,” she said. ”We call on all parties to de-escalate the tensions.”

South Ossetia and the Black Sea region of Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after fighting wars against Tbilisi in the 1990s. Both have financial support from Moscow and the vast majority of locals have Russian citizenship.

Russia has peacekeepers in both regions, but Georgia says the Russian troops are not neutral and back the separatists.

”The Russian Federation represents one of the sides in the conflict and the Russian ‘peacekeepers’ deployed in the conflict zone [in South Ossetia] in fact prop up the separatist regime,” Georgia’s Defence Ministry said.

”The Russian Federation is carrying out on Georgian land an aggression and actions that violate Georgia’s sovereignty.”

On Monday, Russia accused Georgia of using excessive force in South Ossetia. ”If events continue to develop in this way, if the attitude is not changed, this won’t lead to anything good,” Popov said.

”I don’t want to make any grim predictions, but if such events are repeated, the situation may spiral out of control and lead to sad consequences.” – Reuters

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