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Merkel criticizes Russian action in Georgia

Says nation's border integrity 'nonnegotiable'

By Michael Fischer
Associated Press / October 3, 2008
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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - German Chancellor Angela Merkel chastised Russia's conduct in Georgia and told President Dmitry Medvedev that the pro-Western nation's territorial integrity is "nonnegotiable," underscoring deep divisions left by the recent war.

Russia recognized Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations after its troops drove deep into the ex-Soviet republic in August, and has announced plans to keep 7,600 troops in the two territories.

Merkel said that is unacceptable and expressed hope that international talks expected to start later this month in the situation in Georgia will help resolve the issue.

"We believe that the territorial integrity of Georgia remains nonnegotiable," Merkel told a news conference with Medvedev. The two leaders spoke after their talks during an annual summit designed to strengthen political and economic ties between Russia and Germany.

"We believe Russia's reaction in this crisis was not appropriate," Merkel said before their talks.

Medvedev stood firm in his insistence that it did the right thing in Georgia.

He said the war there displayed the need for a new international security system that Moscow has been pushing even as NATO vows to continue its eastward expansion. Russia has criticized Georgia's drive for NATO membership and says the alliance is outdated.

"Unfortunately, the latest events in the Caucasus showed that global security system in effect today is incapable of averting military escapades, and we must do everything we can to create a modern, reliable architecture of this security for the future."

Western nations have reacted coolly to Medvedev's calls for a new security system encompassing Russia, Europe, and North America.

The talks came as EU monitors patrolled in strips of Georgian land outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia for a second day. Both leaders praised the deployment, which is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of Russian troops from the areas within 10 days.

Despite the European Union patrols, tension persisted in the buffer zone outside South Ossetia yesterday.

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said South Ossetia militia raided a village in the area, Kere, and set buildings on fire. The raid could not be independently confirmed, but an AP Television News crew saw ambulances and fire trucks heading toward the village.

European Union monitors, however, reached the "preliminary" conclusion that the fire was not conflict-related, mission spokesman Juri Laas said. The monitors began patrolling the buffer zone Wednesday.

Adding to the confusion, the AP crew, at a Russian checkpoint just outside the buffer zone, saw people driving away from Kere who yelled out their car windows that South Ossetia militia were approaching the village.

For Russia and the West, the dispute over the status of the Georgian separatist regions is a source of discord with no end in sight.

Medvedev said Russia's disagreements with the West should not lead to a new Cold War.

"Maybe somebody would like to divide the world into allies and strangers, into those who are right and those who are wrong, but here in Russia we are confident that this time has irreparably gone," Medvedev said.

"Just as it's impossible to rebuild the Berlin wall, it's impossible to return to the Cold War," the Russian president said.

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