Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [Xinhua]
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed decrees recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of neighboring Georgia.
The move is in keeping with fundamental international laws and shows Russian support to the expression of "free will" by the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, Medvedev said in a televised address, according to Itar-Tass news agency.
"I have signed decrees on the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation...That was not an easy choice to make, but it is the sole chance of saving people's lives," he said.
The recent attack by Georgian forces on South Ossetia has killed all hopes for the peaceful coexistence of Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians in one state, Medvedev said, adding that the time has come for the peoples of the two regions to decide their own fate.
Medvedev called on other countries to follow Russia's example to recognize the independence of the two regions.
In addition, he has ordered the Russian Foreign Ministry to establish diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Kremlin said.
He instructed the ministry to hold talks with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on drafting a treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance.
The president also ordered the Defense Ministry to ensure security in the separatist provinces as requested by their leaders, the Kremlin said.
Soon after Medvedev's declaration, the respective leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, thanked Russia for recognizing their regions' independence.
"This is an historic day for our people. I'm grateful to the Russian leadership and to the Russian people for this great step which was taken today to recognize Abkhazia's independence," the Interfax news agency quoted Bagapsh as saying.
Kokoity made a similar statement, saying that: "Russia has saved us from genocide and has granted us the opportunity to develop and live on our own land."
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to the NATO, said recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a response to those who accused Russia of planning to annex the two regions.
"The president's decision is a response to those political structures that said that Russia needs new land, that Russia is an occupier, that Russia is going to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Rogozin told a press conference in Moscow.
Russian TV showed images of people with flags celebrating in the streets of the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi. Itar-Tass news agency said shops in South Ossetia were short of fireworks supplies as many rushed to buy them.
Meanwhile, Georgia slammed the Russian decision, saying it was a challenge not only to Georgia but to the international community as it violated the UN Charter, Georgian news agency Caucasus Press reported.
Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said the move will "leave Russia isolated" internationally.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke from central Georgian rule during wars in the early 1990s following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, but their self-proclaimed independence is not recognized internationally.
Earlier this month, Georgia sent in troops to reclaim South Ossetia and Russia responded with a military offensive, driving Georgian forces out of the region and taking over parts of Georgian territory.
Russia declared a halt to its military offensive on Aug. 12 after days of conflict in the region. Later, Moscow said it had fulfilled the promise made in a French-brokered peace plan to withdraw its troops from Georgia as of last Friday.
EU condemns Russia's decision on S. Ossetia, Abkhazia
(Xinhua News Agency August 27, 2008)