- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Crisis in Georgia

The ambassador from Georgia to the United States yesterday denounced Russia for threatening the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of his country, as the nation on the Black Sea prepares for a diplomatic surge against Moscow at the U.N. Security Council and in Washington.

“We are deeply concerned with this threat coming from Russia,” Ambassador Vasil Sikharulidze told Embassy Row.

In Georgia yesterday, President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of shooting down an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance aircraft over the separatist region of Abkhazia. Moscow denied the charge.

Russia last week opened direct relations with Abkhazia and a second separatist region, South Ossetia, both of which have declared independence. Moscow’s move came after Georgia announced its desire to join NATO, which would put a member of the Western alliance on Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus Mountains.

Russia’s move is a “threat to George’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” the ambassador said, adding that his government suspects Moscow of trying to exert its influence in a “creeping annexation” of the rebellious regions, especially Abkhazia, located in Georgia’s northwest and bordering the Black Sea and Russia.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze was in New York yesterday, appealing for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. He is due in Washington today for talks with National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Mr. Sikharulidze said he is trying to arrange a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well.

Georgia also took its case to the European Union and NATO over the weekend, when Giorgi Baramidze, Georgia’s minister for European affairs, held talks on the crisis with officials from Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. in Brussels.

In Washington last week, Estonian President Toomas Ilves discussed the crisis in Georgia when he met with Miss Rice. Estonia, a NATO member, supports Georgia’s inclusion in NATO, Mr. Ilves said. Before his meeting with Miss Rice, Mr. Ilves telephoned Mr. Saakashvili for an update on the crisis.

“We consider Russia’s actions a provocative act against the territorial integrity of Georgia,” Mr. Ilves told Embassy Row.

Also in Washington yesterday, the leaders of a congressional panel on relations with Europe bluntly criticized Moscow over its “bullying behavior” against Georgia.

“Moscow’s latest move clearly undermines Georgia’s sovereignty,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “I urge Moscow to disavow its decision [to expand relations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia] and cease its bullying behavior in the Caucasus.”

His co-chairman, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, added that Moscow’s “move is clearly intended to punish Georgia for its desire to join NATO.”

Murdoch speaks

When media baron Rupert Murdoch speaks, he does not need a megaphone. His words alone are loud enough.

Last night, he turned his criticism on Europe, calling it a continent incapable of defending itself, and upbraided opponents of a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a South American nation “fighting poverty, battling drug lords and taking on terrorists.” Most of the opposition to the treaty comes from Democrats in Congress.

Mr. Murdoch, whose empire includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, received the Distinguished Business Award from the Atlantic Council of the United States, which is dedicated to promoting U.S.-Europe relations.

“Europe,” he said in remarks prepared for the awards dinner in Washington, “no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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