The Russian parliament has voted unanimously to recommend the government recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetian and Abkhazia. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow the move could be a violation of the 1975 Helsinki Agreement, which fixed the post-War borders of Europe.
Russian lawmakers took turns addressing their colleagues before the vote in each house of Parliament, the Duma and Federation Council, but it is not likely any members needed convincing - the decision to recommend recognition was unanimous.
All speakers framed their remarks in terms of Georgian aggression, allegations of genocide against the Ossetian people, as well as U.S. and Western opportunism in the Caucasus.
Upper House leader Sergei Mironov told the Federation Council that South Ossetia and Abkhazia have all the necessary prerequisites for independent statehood. And Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov told lawmakers the Caucasus has been and will always remain in what he referred to as "the zone of Russia's strategic interest."
Gryzlov says those interests will be realized regardless of statements made at any foreign podiums. He says the strategic interests of Russia correspond with the interests of all peoples in the Caucasus. Those interests, says Gryzlov, are geared first of all at the security of the region and the whole world.
South Ossetia, Abkhazia tell Parliament they do not want to be part of Georgia
The President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoiti, and his Abkhaz counterpart, Sergei Bagapsh, were invited to speak in both houses of Parliament. Both said neither region ever wants to be together with Georgia. The Abkhaz leader called the day "truly historic."
Bagapsh said it is a day when the fate of small peoples is decided; peoples who want to live in a global constellation with others and to complement them with their distinct customs and cultures.
It will be up to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to accept or decline the recommendation of Parliament.
How could this affect the Helsinki Accords?
Human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told VOA that recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would represent a violation of the Helsinki Accords. Signatories of the 1975 document agreed to recognize the inviolability of post-War boundaries of Europe. Alexeyeva characterized the parliamentary recommendation as highly irresponsible.
Alexeyeva says if the president of a self-declared republic that is recognized by no other country makes a certain proposal it does not mean the Russian Federation Council should follow up with a recommendation for recognition. The activist says the fact that somebody, for example, stole something or did something stupid does not mean Russia should steal or do something stupid.
Russia is considered the successor state to the Soviet Union, which insisted on recognition of post-War borders in Europe as a way of securing Moscow's influence in Eastern Europe. In return, Western countries demanded that the Helsinki Agreement include respect for human rights as well as economic, scientific and other humanitarian cooperation.
Moscow justifies potential violation of accords
Moscow says the West violated the agreement when it recognized the independence of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, which is a close ally of Russia. Several lawmakers mentioned Kosovo as a precedent for Russian recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions.
In an interview published in the French newspaper Liberation, Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would represent an attempt to change Europe's borders by force. He cautioned the move would bring disastrous results to Russia and other countries.
In a sign that events in the Caucasus are affecting other ethnic minorities in Russia, the Tatar Independence Party, Ittifak," is circulating an appeal calling for the independence of Tatarstan, an oil-rich republic in central Russia. Tatars make up nearly 53 percent of the population, followed by ethnic Russians at nearly 40 percent. The remainder includes such ethnic groups as the Chuvashes, Udmurts, Maris, and Bashkirs.
The Ittifak appeal notes that Tatarstan's majority voted for independence in 1992, but was denied international recognition because of pressure and threats from Moscow.