US seeks to defuse tension between Georgia and Russia
WASHINGTON: The United States offered on Thursday to help defuse an increasingly shrill dispute between Russia and Georgia over breakaway regions of the small but key US ally, despite Moscow’s warning to Washington not to get involved.
Against a backdrop of both sides’ provocative rhetoric, including Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s threat this week to shoot Russian tourist boats, Secretary of State Colin Powell hosted the US-educated leader and urged dialogue. Russia and Georgia are at odds over the fate of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, parts of Georgia that won autonomy in separatist wars in 1992 and 1993, shortly after Georgia’s own independence from the collapsing Soviet Union.
“What we are anxious to do is calm the situation down, remove tensions and the propensity for provocation and get back to dialogue,” Powell told reporters after meeting Saakashvili.
Georgia, a small nation in the Caucasus region, is pivotal in the strategies of both the United States and Russia, which are rivals for control over the Caspian Sea’s enormous oil wealth.
Powell said the United States would help the sides with its “good offices”, diplomacy that stops short of mediation but involves advising both sides on how they can reduce tensions. Saakashvili, who aims to regain control over the regions against Russian wishes, said with US help Georgia could ease tensions. “We want to keep a dialogue, including dialogue with the Russians,” he said standing alongside Powell. “The last thing we want is some kind of confrontation.”
Despite poverty and a lack of mineral resources, Georgia is important to the United States because it is the site of a pipeline that will take Caspian oil to Western markets. The gradual extension of US influence over a region Russia considers its “back yard” has irked the former imperialist power.
On Wednesday, Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin said Moscow resented the US role and told Washington it needed to be sensitive to Russia’s interests in the region.
Powell played down the intensity of the dispute. “I think there is a bit of tension there, but I don’t think we are on the verge of a crisis of the kind that some have suggested,” he said. “We have seen this kind of problem before and I think we know how to deal with it diplomatically.” reuters