Philip Pan, Moscow
August 14, 2009
RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has travelled to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia and pledged to strengthen Russia's military presence there, defying US and European objections.
Speaking on the anniversary of his nation's victory over Georgia in a five-day war last year, Mr Putin said the Kremlin planned to spend nearly $A560 million to build a base in the separatist enclave and reinforce its de facto border with Georgia.
''It won't be a Maginot line,'' Mr Putin said, referring to the fortifications France built against Germany before World War II.
His visit underscored Russia's growing foothold in what once was Georgian territory and highlighted the sharp differences that remain between Moscow and Washington despite the Obama Administration's efforts to ''reset'' bilateral relations.
US and European officials have called on Russia to comply with the cease-fire agreement that ended the war and withdraw its troops to pre-war positions and levels. But Russia says it is no longer bound by those promises because it recognised Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, as independent states after the war.
It is unclear how many Russian soldiers remain in the disputed territories. But the military said in June that plans to double its pre-war presence to nearly 7500 troops had been scaled back. Instead, officials said more Russian border guards would be deployed.
Russian forces are stationed at two bases, one in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the other in Gudauta, a town on the Black Sea coast in western Abkhazia. The Gudauta base was built during the Soviet era and is considered a strategic asset because it boasts one of the largest military airfields in the Caucasus.
Some Abkhaz are said to be wary of growing too dependent on Russia, but the authorities greeted Mr Putin warmly as he arrived by helicopter in the local capital, Sukhumi.
In an interview with Abkhaz reporters broadcast in Russia, Mr Putin chastised the West for condemning Russia's invasion of Georgia. ''That's not even double standards, not even triple standards. It's a complete lack of any standards,'' he said, accusing the US of pressuring countries to continue to back Georgia's claim to the territories.
Asked about the possibility of another war, Mr Putin replied: ''Given the Georgian leadership today, nothing can be ruled out, but it will be much harder for them to do it.''
The Obama Administration has repeatedly endorsed Georgia's territorial integrity and only Nicaragua has joined Russia in recognising the sovereignty of the separatist regions.
In Georgia, Australian Source Reads You!(from Washington Post)
Alternative British Source
I guess the Eurovision entry just made him too angry to give up those areas.
Sorry if this has already been posted - I have been following the comm and I checked but I may have missed it...