TBILISI, June 27 (RIA Novosti) – NATO on Thursday once again harshly criticized Russia’s construction of barbed-wire fences along an ex-Georgian region’s 350-kilometer border with that country.
Georgia lost control of a fifth of its territory in 2008 after fighting a five-day war with Russia over the breakaway region, South Ossetia. Russia subsequently recognized independence of that region and the nearby province of Abkhazia, but reportedly gave the residents Russian passports.
Speaking in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, on Thursday, NATO’s secretary general reiterated, nearly word-for-word, comments that he made early this month when the fences were reported.
“Fence-building impedes freedom of movement. It can further inflame tensions. It is not acceptable and should be reversed,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the opening of Georgia’s National Parliamentary Library.
He commended Georgia for being a “strong supporter of shared security” and having “more troops in Afghanistan than any other of NATO’s partner nations.” He hailed the country’s progress “on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration, including in NATO,” adding that “Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration will only be a matter of time.”
Late last month, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Russian border guards had installed barbed-wire fences along Georgia’s border with South Ossetia and had even pushed the border line inside Georgia.
Georgia maintains its claim to sovereignty over both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose Russia-proclaimed independence has been recognized by only a handful of other nations.
Rasmussen on Thursday urged Russia to maintain peace in the area, in keeping with an agreement signed in the wake of the August 2008 conflict. “Such moves [building fences] are contrary to international law, and they are contrary to the ceasefire agreement,” he said.
In November 2010, Georgia’s president declared that his country would never use force to restore the territorial integrity of the breakaway republics.
“We have welcomed Georgia’s commitment not to use force, and we have called on Russia to reciprocate,” Rasmussen said Thursday, adding that “it takes two to tango” and “Russia has to help in this regard.”
Under an interstate agreement with Russia signed on April 30, 2009, South Ossetia delegated its border protection functions to Russia until the republic established its own border guard service.
Rasmussen arrived in Tbilisi on Wednesday for a two-day visit to assess steps that Georgia has taken to fulfill requirement for joining NATO.
Georgia will become a full-fledged member of NATO, but further work is needed to meet the requirements of membership, he said, adding that, for example, Georgia should continue to work to ensure the highest democratic standards.
“You are on the right path. Because it’s the path to NATO’s open door,” he said. “You are making real progress. With consistent and determined efforts, you will reach your destination. And you will walk through that open door.”