Russia's Medvedev: Georgia war changed map for good
Oleg Shchedrov – 49 mins ago
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (Reuters) – A year after Russia defeated neighbor Georgia's military bid to retake a pro-Moscow region from rebels, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday the war had redrawn the map of the Caucasus for good.
At a ceremony to decorate officers and soldiers who took part in the five-day conflict, Medvedev said the 58th army had prevented the extermination of South Ossetians, who broke from Georgian rule in the 1990s.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a breakaway Georgian region on the Black Sea, as independent states after the conflict and has guaranteed their security.
"Last year's events have finally redrawn the political map of the Caucasus," Medvedev told the 58th Army, which spearheaded Russia's riposte, in the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz.
"The recognition of South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence was the only possible solution," he said. "This decision will not be reviewed," he added.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says Russia fueled separatism and invaded before Tbilisi acted, a charge Moscow has dismissed. Georgia says the invasion was long planned by its old Soviet master as punishment for Georgia's pro-Western politics and bid to join NATO.
The brief war rattled Western confidence in oil and gas routes running through Georgia and skirting South Ossetia.
Western states condemned Russia's counter-strike as "disproportionate" and the European Union and NATO froze talks with Russia, a major supplier of energy to Europe.
A year later, ties are back on and Medvedev said the conflict had not damaged relations.
"The peace enforcement operation (by Russian troops in South Ossetia) has not complicated our relations with the international community," he said.
"No matter who says what, ours is the right cause."
The Kremlin chief, whose decision to recognize Georgia's breakaway regions was only followed by Nicaragua, visited South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali last month as a gesture of support.
The war killed at least 390 civilians and at its height displaced more than 100,000. An unfulfilled ceasefire pact, sporadic gunfire and the withdrawal of monitors from pro-Western Georgia's two rebel regions keep alive the risk of renewed war.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)