Caucasus becomes a pawn in world politics

The situation in the Georgian conflict region of South Ossetia has escalated. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has declared a state of war after Russia intervened in the conflict to "force a ceasefire". Meanwhile, Georgian positions in Abkhazia, Georgia's other breakaway republic, have also come under attack. President Saakashvili reportedly offered a ceasefire.

In the conflict with Russia, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has proposed an immediate ceasefire, the Interfax news agency reports in Tbilisi. Conflict parties should immediately stop fighting around Chinvali, Saakashvili demands; region should be demilitarized. As a sign of his goodwill, the president has withdrawn Georgian troops from Chinvali, said the secretary of the Security Council in Tbilisi, Alexander Lomaia. The South Ossetian "capital" of Chinvali appears to have been under Russian control even before Saakashvili's offer was made. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass had already reported in the morning that the Russian army had "liberated" the capital of South Ossetia. According to Russian reports, up to 30.000 people from South Ossetia fled to Russia. Georgia launched a surprise military offensive in South Ossetia on Friday in an attempt to regain control of the province, which has been a breakaway since 1992. Russian forces have intervened in the conflict in support of South Ossetia.

State of war declared Western news agencies report Russian airstrikes on oil and gas infrastructure in Georgia. The Black Sea port of Poti has been "completely" destroyed by Russian airstrikes, according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry. Russians also reportedly attacked military bases in Georgia. Russia's President Medvedev said Russian troops in South Ossetia should force Georgia to agree to a ceasefire.The Georgian president declared a state of war on Saturday. The armed forces as well as thousands of reservists have already been mobilized. 2000 Georgian soldiers to be brought back from Iraq. In a CNN interview, the Georgian president asked the U.S. for help. Bush administration backed Saakashvili but avoided any impression of possible military support. In Tbilisi, Saakashvili also voiced criticism of the international community. The information that Russia was planning a war against Georgia had been available. No one listened to him, the president complained. He also mentioned by name Angela Merkel, with whom he had met for bilateral talks in Berlin as recently as June.

"Situation is extremely serious" Pope Benedict XVI. Is following with growing concern the crisis in Ossetia and the military escalation between Georgia and Russia. The Pope prays and hopes that the warlike conflict can be ended again through reason and diplomatic channels, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Saturday on "Vatican Radio". The Holy See was "shocked" by the events in the Caucasus and by the fact that, after several years of calm, violence had now broken out again in this region, which was already marked by many tensions. The "One sensed that something would happen. Some say that the Russian side had prepared everything for a long time," Giuseppe Pasotto, Apostolic Administrator for the Latin Rite faithful in Georgia, told Vatican Radio in Tiblisi. The patriarch has called on Georgian Christians to pray for peace this evening.German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) has urged the parties to the conflict in South Ossetia to end the fighting. Russians and Georgians must withdraw their troops led into South Ossetia, Steinmeier told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Steinmeier called the situation in the breakaway Georgian province "extremely serious". Referring to reports that fighting had also broken out in the Georgian province of Abkhazia, Steinmeier warned of the danger of a "dangerous conflagration": "In view of this dramatic prospect, all parties must immediately ame their responsibility – the weapons must fall silent!" Memories of the cold war The Georgians are supported by the U.S. in their quest for territorial unity and NATO membership. Georgian soldiers were trained by the USA for the mission in Iraq. In the course of the European Neighborhood Policy, the Georgian police were provided with training, equipment and information by the EU. But within the EU, there is no unified position. Germany is very reserved. The Baltic states and Sweden, for example, are more closely aligned with Georgia, explains Uwe Halbach of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik).The Caucasian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the other hand, have long sought foreign policy support from Russia. Russia also supports the region economically, for example with a gas pipeline across the Caucasus. Moscow also began naturalizing the Ossetians years ago. A good 90 percent of the South Ossetians now possess Russian passports. Thus, by intervening in the conflict, Russia is formally protecting its own citizens.

Striving for independence The arbitrary demarcations in the region date back to the time of Sralin, but only came to light after the collapse of the Soviet Union. South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in a two-year war in early 1992 and has been de facto independent since then. Abkhazia also declared independence in 1992. A subsequent war ended with a ceasefire in 1994. The regions continue to belong to Georgia under international law.In 1992 and 2006, South Ossetian residents voted in referendums for independence from Georgia. Internationally, however, the referenda were not recognized. Since the 1992 cease-fire, Russia has deployed 500 soldiers as UN peacekeepers in the region. Call for prudence The escalation of the conflict has greatly alarmed the international community. The UN Security Council convened within hours on Friday for an emergency meeting, but has so far been unable to agree on a joint statement on the conflict.German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) called on the conflicting parties "to exercise the utmost prudence and restraint". It demanded an immediate halt to any use of force, according to deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg. The German Chancellor is constantly informed about current developments. The German government is in close coordination with its partners in the EU, OSCE and NATO on this matter, it was said. Green Party federal leaders Claudia Roth and Reinhard Butikofer also called on the parties to the conflict to "immediately end the intolerable violence, agree on a ceasefire and seek a peaceful solution."A violent conquest of South Ossetia by Georgia is just as unacceptable as the invasion of Russian troops for the benefit of the separatists in South Ossetia. Roth and Butikofer also warned against a spillover of the armed conflict into Abkhazia. CSU foreign affairs expert Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said the invasion of Georgian troops into the territory of South Ossetia should be rejected, as should Russian bombardments. A spiral of escalation in the Caucasus must be avoided at all costs. Germany and the EU are called upon to promote a political understanding. Guttenberg rebuked: "Martial saber-rattling of Putin's diction certainly does not represent a constructive contribution to peacemaking in the given situation." One must hope "that President Medvedev will act more prudently".

Negotiations were in vain FDP Caucasus expert Michael Link said the fighting between Georgian troops on the one hand and South Ossetian militias and the Russian army on the other was a revelation that years of negotiations had been in vain. The blame lies with "the stubbornness of those involved – South Ossetians, Georgians and Russians alike". The territorial integrity of Georgia is out of the question for the FDP. But the conflicts over South Ossetia and Abkhazia could not be resolved by force. Especially not when a country like Georgia aspires to NATO membership.

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