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Clinton, Ahead of Caucasus visit, Decries Russian Occupation of Georgian Areas

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku at the start of a brief Caucasus visit that will also take her to Armenia and Georgia. Saturday in Poland she called for an end to what she termed the Russian occupation of breakaway Georgian regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Clinton has been defending the Obama administration's effort to rebuild ties with Russia on this five-nation tour of countries which had been part of, or allied with, the former Soviet Union.

But she says differences with Moscow will continue despite the re-set of relations, and she is making clear this includes the continuing Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the brief Russia-Georgia war in 2008.

The United States holds that the Georgian military move into South Ossetia that started the war was a mistake.

But it is increasingly critical of Russia's failure to heed the truce accord that calls for a return to the pre-war status-quo, including the departure of Russian troops from the breakaway areas.

At a news conference Saturday with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Clinton again urged Moscow to remove its forces from the Georgian enclaves.

"We have consistently opposed the occupation, by Russian troops of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and have pushed for a resolution that would restore the full territorial integrity of Georgia," said Hillary Clinton. "I will certainly be discussing that with the leadership in Georgia. We have raised these issues consistently with Russia."

Sikorski, who along with Clinton witnessed the signing in Krakow of a revised U.S.-Polish missile defense accord, said his government also wants to see action on the Georgia dispute.

"Poland also strongly supports the territorial integrity of Georgia and the need to resolve 'frozen conflicts' because we now know how quickly they can unfreeze," said Radoslaw Sikorski. "And just a few days ago in Paris we held a meeting of the Weimar Triangle, which is to say Poland, France and Germany, to which we invited [Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov of Russia, and we made the argument to him that Russia needs to show its credibility on these issues."

Sikorski said the three European countries urged Russian action to end the long-running political stalemate over Trans-Dniestr, a breakaway strip of Moldovan territory along the eastern bank of the Dniestr River.

The area, home to many ethnic Russians and Ukrainains, declared its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union and still resists integration with Moldova.

Clinton is to meet President Ilham Aliyev and other senior Azerbaijani officials here Sunday for talks on regional security, energy, human rights and Azerbaijan's dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-controlled ethnic enclave within Azerbaijan.

She said in Krakow she will press for action on settlement principles for the conflict under the Minsk Process led by the United States, Russia and France.

She will have similar discussions late Sunday with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisyan and other officials in Yerevan that will also include the stalled political normalization process between Armenia and Turkey.

Clinton completes the trip, which began Friday in Ukraine, with a six-hour stop in the Georgian capital, Tblisi on Monday.