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Russia urges UN to restrict Georgian arms

Latest update : 2008-09-10

Russia has urged the UN to place an arms embargo on Tbilisi and has also tightened its control over the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, announcing 7,600 troops will be there in the long term.

Russia tightened control Tuesday over the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, announcing 7,600 troops will be there long-term, while also urging an arms embargo against Tbilisi at the UN.

Russia's draft resolution at the UN Security Council demanding the embargo came after Moscow established diplomatic relations with the two breakaway regions and made clear it will help defend them with a military presence.

The opening of ties drew a furious response in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria described it as "yet another step in the annexation of Georgia's sovereign territories."

Russia's moves followed a visit by a European Union delegation led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy the previous day that travelled to Moscow then Tbilisi to shore up the fragile ceasefire that ended last month's five-day war.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised Monday to withdraw from the rest of Georgia but is maintaining a vice-like grip on the Moscow-backed separatist regions at the centre of the conflict.

Georgia's interior ministry said Tuesday that Russian troops had withdrawn from one Georgian village near Abkhazia.

Two weeks ago, Russia enraged the West by recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, leading to Tuesday's establishment of ties with the breakaway capitals of Tskhinvali and Sukhumi.

"We exchanged notes, which represent an agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Russia and Abkhazia, and Russia and South Ossetia," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The diplomatic move was backed up by a military promise to defend the territories with soldiers.

We have "already agreed on the numbers, around 3,800 in each republic," Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told Medvedev in a televised meeting.

"I hope that at least this will stop the Georgian military regime from carrying out their idiotic acts," Medvedev replied.

Russian tanks and troops surged into Georgia -- a strategic corridor for Caspian Sea oil and gas exports that aspires to NATO membership -- on August 8 to rebuff a Georgian offensive to regain control of South Ossetia from Moscow-backed separatists.

Russia argues that it repelled Georgian troops to protect thousands of people to whom it had granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Georgian government said Tuesday in an official report that 295 people had been confirmed killed during the conflict with Russia, while South Ossetia said more than 500 had died there.

Tens of thousands had also fled their homes.

After introducing the draft resolution at the United Nations, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that Georgia "has been arming very aggressively," with its military budget jumping from 18 to 900 million dollars over the past six years.

He conceded that some veto-wielding UN Security Council members, particularly the United States, were likely to oppose the move.

"But we believe it was absolutely necessary to make that political statement by introduing this draft resolution," Churkin said.

Lavrov said Tuesday that Russian troops would remain in the Georgian territories for "a long time."

He said a deal had been reached with the leaders of the rebel regions spelling out how Russia planned to defend them from Georgia.

Such accords on diplomatic and military ties exasperate Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili who made gaining control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia a central plank of his presidency.

After launching his ill-fated assault on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on August 7 and then being routed by Russia's overwhelming military superiority in a matter of five days, the pro-Western leader has been slammed by some sympathisers for taking a massive gamble.

While Sarkozy and much of Europe has appeared content to concentrate on pressuring Russia to withdraw troops from Georgia, Washington has taken a far tougher line, accusing Moscow of seeking to redraw the map.

US Vice President Dick Cheney, who last week toured ex-Soviet US allies including Georgia, accused Russia on Tuesday of directly "violating" the Georgian border.

International talks on security and stability in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are to start in Geneva on October 15 but a framework for the discussions and who will attend is not yet clear.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it was sending a team to Georgia this week to assess requirements to rebuild its military devastated by the Russian onslaught.

Date created : 2008-09-10