South Ossetia says Russia intends to absorb region
By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 49 minutes ago
TSKHINVALI, Georgia - Russia intends to eventually absorb Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, a South Ossetian official said Friday, three days after Moscow recognized the region as independent and drew criticism from the West.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the region's leader, Eduard Kokoity, discussed the future of South Ossetia earlier this week in Moscow, South Ossetian parliamentary speaker Znaur Gassiyev said.
Russia will absorb South Ossetia "in several years" or earlier, a position was "firmly stated by both leaders," Gassiyev said.
In Moscow, a Kremlin spokeswoman said Friday there was "no official information" on the talks.
The vice speaker of Georgia's parliament, Gigi Tsereteli, said the statement cannot be taken seriously.
"The separatist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian authorities are cut off from reality," he said in Tbilisi. "The world has already become different and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign Georgian territory."
"The regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should think about the fact that if they become part of Russia, they will be assimilated and in this way they will disappear," he added.
Moscow's recognition Tuesday of South Ossetia and another separatist province, Abkhazia, came on the back of a short war that began Aug. 7, when Georgia launched a military offensive to retake South Ossetia. Russia responded by rolling hundreds of tanks into the Moscow-friendly province and pushed the Georgian army out.
Russia blasted the offensive as blind aggression, saying the move deprived Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili of the moral authority to defend Georgia's territorial integrity.
Georgia and the West in turn criticized Russia for pressing further into Georgia proper and for ignoring a cease-fire brokered by the European Union.
But a high-ranking official in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office says that for now "we don't foresee any sanctions decided on by the European Council."
European Union leaders are holding a summit Monday and some member countries have pushed to punish Russia over the crisis with Georgia. But Sarkozy's office believes Europe must concentrate on pressuring Russia to apply a cease-fire agreement.
France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
The official spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because of office policy. He elaborated on remarks by France's foreign minister, who has said sanctions were being considered.
Meanwhile, Russia and South Ossetia plan to sign an agreement on the placement of Russian military bases in South Ossetia, the province's deputy parliamentary speaker Tarzan Kokoiti said. How many bases that involves will become clear on Sept. 2, when the document is set to be signed, he said.
He said South Ossetians have the right to reunite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.
"Soon there will be no North or South Ossetia — there will be a united Alania as part of Russia," Kokoiti said, using another name for Ossetia.
"We will live in one united Russian state," he said.
Associated Press Writers Misha Dzhindhzikhashvili and Jim Heintz in Tbilisi, Georgia; Laurent Pirot in Paris; and David Nowak and Maria Danilova in Moscow contributed to this report.