Russia on Wednesday signed a wide-ranging alliance with Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia that will further cement its control over the territory despite fierce condemnation from the West.
President Vladimir Putin inked a deal in Moscow with South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov that officially makes Russia responsible for defending the self-declared republic, where the Kremlin has stationed thousands of troops since a war with Georgia in 2008.
The signing of the controversial pact came as Russia marked one year to the day since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Black Sea republic of Crimea in a seismic shift slammed by Kiev and the West as an illegal land grab.
Putin hailed the "landmark" agreement after the signing ceremony in the Kremlin, saying it would bind Russia and South Ossetia even closer together.
"A joint defence and security zone will be created between our two countries, our customs agencies will be integrated and border crossings for our citizens will become open," Putin said.
The treaty immediately drew criticism from the West, with both NATO and the United States saying they would not recognise it as legitimate.
“It violates Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and blatantly contradicts the principles of international law, OSCE principles and Russia’s international commitments,” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Jen Psaki, of the US State Department, said: “The occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are integral parts of Georgia, and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Officials in pro-Western Georgia have also blasted the pact -- similar to one sealed between Moscow and a second separatist enclave Abkhazia last year -- as a "de facto annexation" of its territory.
"This step made against the territorial integrity of a sovereign state further worsens the situation created as a result of the occupation and brings it to the level of an annexation," Georgia's President Giorgi Margvelashvili said in a statement.
"It is outrageous that the Russian Federation responds with destructive actions to Georgia's efforts to find meaningful ways to settle the existing problems."
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that the treaty would further destabilise the volatile region.
"The signature by the Russian Federation of a so-called 'Treaty on Alliance and Integration' with Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia... will be yet another step that goes against ongoing efforts to strengthen security and stability in the region," she said in a statement.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia after civil wars in the 1990s that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Moscow officially recognised their independence after fighting a five-day war with Georgia in 2008 and stationed thousands of troops there.
The rebel regions are hugely dependent on Russia for military and financial support.
Only a handful of other countries allied to Russia recognise the regions' independence.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-03-18