- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

MOSCOW | Russia cemented its ties with Georgia’s two breakaway provinces Wednesday by signing friendship treaties envisaging close economic and military cooperation.

President Dmitry Medvedev pledged that Russia will protect Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has recognized as two independent nations after last month’s war with Georgia.

“Our key task today is to ensure security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Mr. Medvedev said during an elaborate signing ceremony in the Kremlin. “The treaties envisage that our nations together will take all the necessary steps to fend off threats to peace. We won’t allow any new military adventurism, no one must have any illusions about that.”

Eduard Kokoity, the South Ossetian leader, and Sergei Bagapsh, the leader of Abkhazia, signed the treaties with Mr. Medvedev.

Russia has said it will deploy nearly 8,000 troops in the regions on a long-term basis.

Russia has pledged to withdraw all other forces now on Georgian territory outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia within 10 days of the deployment of European Union monitors who are supposed to be in place by Oct. 1. But it is pushing to keep Western observers away from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Last month’s war and Moscow’s recognition of the two regions have pushed Russia’s relations with the West to the lowest point since the Cold War. Nicaragua is the only other country that has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Also Wednesday, Russia issued an unusually harsh condemnation of the NATO chief’s visit to Georgia, saying it showed a Cold War mentality and would further destabilize the region.

NATO’s support for Georgia after the war with Russia last month can only be seen as “encouraging Tbilisi to engage in new reckless ventures,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and envoys from all 26 member countries were in Georgia this week. The former Soviet republic is eager to join the Western military alliance, a step Russia strongly opposes.

In a strong message of support for Georgia, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said Tuesday that its “road to NATO is still wide open.”

“No other country will have a veto over that process, nor will we allow our strong ties to Georgia to be broken by outside military intervention and pressure,” he said.

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