TBILISI, Georgia — Russian President Dimity Medvedev visited the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia today in a trip apparently designed to assert Russia’s ties to the region and dash Georgia’s hopes of regaining sovereignty over it.
Georgian officials called the visit — the first by Medvedev since last year’s war between Russia and Georgia — a provocation.
Russian TV showed brief footage of Medvedev walking along a street in South Ossetia’s main city, Tsinkhvali, and receiving raucous applause by cheering crowds, some chanting “Thank you!” as he exited his limousine.
He later met with the region’s leader, Eduard Kokoity.
“We not only share — how to say — a glorious past but a durable and solid base, I mean several treaties, that now link Russia and South Ossetia,” Medvedev told Kokoity in televised comments. “We have a whole series of projects aimed at restoring the economic and social sphere in South Ossetia. We will absolutely complete them.”
“I am grateful for the invitation to visit the new country, South Ossetia, which was born in the time of dramatic events and was supported by the Russian people,” he was also quoted by Interfax as saying.
Kokoity said, “I’m grateful for your support. Thank you for recognizing our nation (as independent). And our ancient nation of South Ossetia thanks you for saving our tiny people.”
Russian news agencies said Medvedev also visited a Russian military base in Tsinkhvali and quoted him as saying that there were a “number of projects for the economic and social restoration of the republic.”
“There is a lot of work to be done,” he was quoted as saying.
South Ossetia and another Georgia region, Abkhazia, have long had de-facto independence from Georgian government control, and Russia has backed their separatist governments, giving residents Russian passports and providing other aid.
Last August, Georgia attacked Tsinkhvali, trying to reassert its control. In response, Russia invaded, routing the Georgian army and humiliating Georgia’s U.S.-backed government.
Since then, Russia has recognized the two regions as independent nations, based thousands of Russian troops in each region and poured money into their infrastructures. No other nation, aside from Nicaragua, has recognized the two regions.
Russia also has blocked efforts to extend monitoring missions by the United Nations and other groups in the regions.
Georgian officials, meanwhile, reacted dimly to Medvedev’s announced visit.
“If Medvedev has nowhere else to go except Tskhinvali … there’s nothing you can do. We expect provocations from the Kremlin,” Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgia’s minister for reintegration, told The Associated Press.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, meanwhile, was in Turkey today attending the signing ceremony for the construction of a pipeline that would take Central Asian and Caspian gas to Europe, bypassing Russia. Georgia, which already hosts a major pipeline for Caspian Sea oil headed to Western markets, is likely to be a transit nation for the Nabucco pipeline.