TBILISI, Georgia – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rebuked Russia on Monday for failing to live up to the cease-fire agreement it signed nearly two years ago to end the fighting in this small former Soviet state.
She asserted that Russia is occupying parts of Georgia and building permanent military bases in contravention of the truce.
“We’re calling on the Russians to enforce the agreement they signed,” she told a news conference with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili at her side. She said that includes pulling its troops back to the positions they held before the invasion.
Several times she pointedly referred to Russian troops as occupiers of the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. She said the U.S. was “appalled and totally rejected” Russia’s rationale for the invasion, which temporarily put U.S.-Russian relations in a deep freeze and prompted NATO to suspend cooperation with Moscow.
“The United States is steadfast in its commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said. “The United States does not recognize spheres of influence,” she added, referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s claim that his country has “privileged interests” and special influence in Georgia and other former Soviet states.
Georgia gained its independence in 1991 with the collapse of Soviet communism.
Asked about Clinton’s comments, Russia’s powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Georgia against trying to rally U.S. support, saying, “They mustn’t seek solutions outside.”
Russia wants to retain clout in the region as a counterweight to the eastward march of NATO, which in recent years has expanded its frontiers to include the former Soviet states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Ukraine also had been pursuing membership but reversed course this year with the election of a more Moscow-friendly government.
The invasion remains a major point of contention between Washington and Moscow. It complicates U.S. relations with Georgia, which has been skeptical of the Obama administration’s policy of adopting friendly relations with Moscow in an attempt to overcome the deep divides that developed during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Saakashvili told reporters, however, that upon further reflection he thinks President Barack Obama’s Russia policy is the correct one.
“It’s exactly the right way,” he said.