|South Ossetia Sends Russia Mixed Signals|
|September 11, 2008|
September 12, 2008
By ELLEN BARRY and ALAN COWELL
MOSCOW — The leader of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region, the focus of Russia’s war with Georgia last month, offered conflicting versions Thursday of his country’s relations with Moscow, first saying that he wanted to join Russia but then insisting that he favored independence, according to news reports.
For its part, Moscow moved quickly to dampen any speculation about its designs on South Ossetia, saying the impoverished region did not wish to join Russia.
“South Ossetia doesn’t wish to join up with anyone,” Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said during a visit to Warsaw, The Associated Press reported. Russia sent troops into South Ossetia last month after a bombardment by Georgian forces trying to retake the area. The Russian military operation then pushed into Georgia itself and into Abkhazia, another breakaway region. Russia recognized the independence of both territories on August 26.
At a meeting of foreign policy experts in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday, Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia, was quoted as saying it was South Ossetia’s ambition to be part of Russia after a phase of independence followed by union with North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation. “Yes, we will seek union with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation,” Mr. Kokoity said, according to news reports.
In a later statement, however, Mr. Kokoity declared: “I have probably been misunderstood. We are not going to relinquish our independence, which we won at the cost of colossal sacrifices, and South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia.
“Yes, many in South Ossetia are talking about reunification with North Ossetia within Russia, and nobody can ban expressing such ideas. But South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia, it intends to build intergovernmental relations with international law with all states,” Mr. Kokoity was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying.
South Ossetia, which broke with Georgia in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has been heavily dependent on Moscow, has spoken in the past of joining Russia.
But Mr. Lavrov’s remarks made clear that, at least for the moment, Russia has other plans.
Participants at the Sochi meeting said Mr. Kokoity’s remarks on Thursday served to underscore the region’s unpredictability and its potential to throw up complex issues.
Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Alan Cowell reported from Paris.
Permanent link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/world/europe/12ossetia.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
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