|Germany's Merkel condemns Russian recognition of rebel regions|
|Tuesday, 26 August 2008|
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday condemned Russian recognition of independence for the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"This contradicts the principle of territorial integrity, a principle based on the international law of nations and for this reason it is unacceptable," Merkel said during a lecture in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
"We must by consequence react united as the European Union," Merkel said.
Earlier Tuesday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced he had signed a decree under which Russia formally recognises the rebel Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
France, which holds the EU presidency, was consulting its European partners to seek EU condemnation, officials said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung daily he "regretted" Medvedev's decision and that it made finding a resolution to the conflict in Georgia "even more difficult."
Merkel also said that both the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine would one day become members of the NATO Western defence alliance. "The decisions of NATO at the Bucharest summit are intact. Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO," Merkel said.
The chancellor underscored the importance of the principle of territorial integrity as one of the pillars of international relations. "The European Union will stick to this," she said.
A six-point plan for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia must be implemented "rapidly," Merkel added. Russian troops must also withdraw from the Georgia Black Sea port of Poti, she said.
The deal for a Russian withdrawal was brokered by France, current holder of the EU's rotating six-month presidency.
"I also support the idea that a robust number of international observers are deployed to the region to dismantle the buffer zones" set up around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, she said.
Support for Georgia would be a central focus of a special EU summit starting Monday, Merkel underlined. She called for EU financial aid to help reconstruct areas of Georgia destroyed by the Russian invasion.
"As in all difficult situations, I will do my all for the EU to find a common position," she said.
Speaking alongside Merkel, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip urged NATO to push ahead with road maps for Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance.
He also urged the EU to ease its visa regime for Georgia, similar to concessions made for Russian citizens.
Ansip called for a suspension of contact with Russia until the terms of the six-point withdrawal plan are met. Germany's Merkel, however, said lines of communication must be kept open with Russia.
"We need to talk with Russia. We cannot solve problems if we do not talk to each other," she said.
Like Georgia, Estonia is itself a former Soviet republic, but was among eight ex-communist states that joined the EU in 2004. It is among the most ardent allies of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The EU has roundly criticised Russia's intervention in Georgia.
Merkel was in Estonia's capital Tallinn Tuesday for meetings with Ansip and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
She was due to arrive in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius later in the day for talks with President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas.
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