Latvia has condemned Russia’s military offensive against strategic targets in Georgia, which quickly moved beyond the breakaway region of South Ossetia, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President Valdis Zatlers’ press office announced Aug. 9.
Russian forces began attacking targets in South Ossetia on Aug. 8 in response to a Georgian military operation intent on regaining the central government’s control over the autonomous region. Russia said it is defending Russian citizens in South Ossetia. By Aug. 9, Russian airplanes also had bombed Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Reports say hundreds have died in the attacks at the hands of both Russian and Georgian forces.
However, by Aug. 10 media reports said Georgian troops had moved out of South Ossetia. Georgia’s foreign ministry announced a ceasefire and called on the Russians to negotiate.
South Ossetia is situated in northern Georgia on the border with Russia. Ethnic conflict there and in neighboring Abkhazia has continued for years since Georgia regained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. South Ossetia is de facto autonomous and has been supported by Russia, which since the 1990s has deployed a peacekeeping force there.
Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš had asked the NATO to discuss the effect the conflict may have on the defense alliance and the security of NATO member states. He also asked Russia to stop its military operations because they could further destablize the region.
President Zatlers, attending the Beijing Olympics, joined with the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland in condeming Russia’s offensive and in questioning whether Russia can be seen as adequate strategic partner with the European Union. It makes no sense, the presidents added, for the EU to continue negotiations about easing visa requirements with Russia.
“What happened in Georgia is a litmus test on the EU’s and NATO’s ability to solve conflicts in the nearby border regions,” the presidents’ statement said, “and it will show all EU and NATO members states, candidate states and other democratic partners whether it is worth being these organizations’ members and partners.”
The Latvian foreign ministry also warned that travel to Georgia at this time should be carefully evaluated.
A small community of Latvians lives in Georgia, mostly in the Tbilisi area, and Latvia has an embassy in the capital.
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