Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today made the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Situation in the Republic of Georgia:
“It has been just eight months since the world’s attention was riveted by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia. In the midst of the fighting, the United States, the European Union, and the international community decried the violence and called on Russia to withdraw its troops from sovereign Georgian soil. There was talk of sanctions against Moscow, the Bush Administration withdrew its submission to Congress of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, and NATO suspended meetings of the NATO-Russia Council.
The outrage quickly subsided, however, and it seems that the events of last August have been all but forgotten in some quarters. A casual observer might guess that things have returned to normal in this part of the world, that the war in Georgia was a brief and tragic circumstance that has since been reversed.
But in fact this is not the case. While the stories have faded from the headlines, Russia remains in violation of the terms of the ceasefire to which it agreed last year, and Russian troops continue to be stationed on sovereign Georgian territory. I’d like to spend a few moments addressing this issue, Mr. President. It bears remembering.
Last August, following months of escalating tension in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, the Russian military sent tanks and troops across the internationally recognized border into South Ossetia. It did not stop there, and Moscow also sent troops into Abkhazia, another breakaway province, dispatched its Black Sea Fleet to take up positions along the Georgian coastline, barred access to the port at Poti, and commenced bombing raids deep into Georgian territory. Despite an appeal from Georgian officials on August 10, noting the Georgian withdrawal from nearly all of South Ossetia and requesting a ceasefire, the Russian attacks continued.
Two days later, the Russian president met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and ultimately agreed to a six point ceasefire requiring, among other things, that all parties to the conflict cease hostilities and pull back their troops to the positions they had occupied before the conflict began. Despite this agreement, the Russian military continued its operations throughout Georgia, targeting the country’s military infrastructure and reportedly engaging in widespread looting.
A follow-on ceasefire agreement signed on September 8 by French President Sarkozy and Russian President Medvedev required that all Russian forces would withdraw from areas adjoining South Ossetia and Abkhazia by October 10, but it took just one day for Moscow to announce that, while it would withdraw its troops to the two provinces, it intended to station thousands of Russian soldiers there, in violation of its commitment to return those numbers to pre-conflict levels. Russia also recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the only country in the world to do so other than Nicaragua. The leaders of both provinces have suggested publicly that they may seek eventual unification with Russia.
Despite the initial international reaction to these moves, the will to impose consequences on Russia for its aggression quickly faded. To cite one example, the European Parliament agreed on September 3 to postpone its talks with Russia on a new partnership agreement until Russian troops had withdrawn from Georgia. Just two months later, the European Union decided to restart those talks. The UN Security Council attempted to move forward a resolution embracing the terms of the ceasefire, but Russia blocked action. The NATO allies suspended meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, then decided in March to resume them.
Yet today, Russia remains in violation of its obligations of the ceasefire agreement. Thousands of Russian troops remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, greatly in excess of the pre-conflict levels. Rather than abide by the ceasefire’s requirement to engage in international talks on the future of the two provinces, Russia has recognized their independence, signed friendship agreements with them that effectively render them Russian dependencies, and taken over their border controls.
All of this suggests tangible results to Russia’s desire to maintain a sphere of influence in neighboring countries, dominate their politics, and circumscribe their freedom of action in international affairs. Just last week, President Medvedev denounced NATO exercises currently taking place in Georgia, describing them as “provocative.” These “provocative” exercises do not involve heavy equipment or arms and focus on disaster response, search and rescue, and the like. Russia was even invited to participate in the exercises – an invitation Moscow declined.
We must not revert to an era in which the countries on Russia’s periphery were not permitted to make their own decisions, control their own political futures, and decide their own alliances. Whether in Kyrgyzstan, where Moscow seems to have exerted pressure for the eviction of U.S. forces from the Manas base, to Estonia, which suffered a serious cyberattack some time ago, to Georgia and elsewhere, Russia continues its attempts to reestablish a sphere of influence. Yet such moves are in direct contravention to the free and open, rules-based international system that the United States and its partners have spent so many decades to uphold.
So let us not forget what has happened in Georgia, and what is happening there today. I would urge the Europeans, including the French President who brokered the ceasefire, to help hold the Russians to its terms. And in the United States, where there remain areas of potential cooperation with Moscow – from nuclear issues to ending the Iranian nuclear program – let us not sacrifice the full independence and sovereignty of countries we have been proud to call friends.”
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