The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

1144-08-08-2008

8 August 200820:55

Statement by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference for Russian and Foreign Media in Connection with the Situation in South Ossetia

Foreign Minister Lavrov: President Medvedev has today made a statement concerning the events that are taking place in South Ossetia. The situation there is worsening with each passing hour. The Georgian side, as you can see on TV screens, is using heavy weapons, heavy equipment and, as a matter of fact, has unleashed aggressive actions against the South Ossetian people. Massed fire is being conducted at residential quarters of Tskhinvali and other populated areas, including those outside the South Ossetian zone of conflict. A Russian convoy with humanitarian aid has been subjected to targeted bombing. There have appeared reports of ethnic cleansings in South Ossetian villages. Panic is rising among the population, and the number of refugees is growing who are trying to save their lives, the lives of their children, relatives and friends. A humanitarian catastrophe is impending. The Georgian side has ignored the UN General Assembly resolution appeal to observe Olympic Peace during the Beijing Olympic Games as well.

All of this confirms the warnings that our side has long since issued on many occasions that the international community should at last take notice of and cease shutting the eyes to the massive purchases of offensive weapons that the Georgian side has been making over recent years. Now we see that the Georgian leadership has found application for these armaments and those special troops trained with the aid of foreign instructors. We are outraged at the fact that Russian citizens are suffering, including Russian peacekeepers, who have risked their lives to maintain peace, even if it was fragile, in the South Ossetia zone of conflict all these years. And the fact that Georgian peacekeepers who were part of the joint peacekeeping force opened fire on their Russian colleagues, I think, speaks for itself.

It is now probably understandable to all why the Georgian side so stubbornly, for many long months, kept rejecting our urgent proposal to sign a legally binding document on the nonuse of force in resolving the South Ossetia conflict, as by the way it kept refusing – and continues to do so – to sign a similar document with regard to the Abkhazia conflict. Only recently – before combat actions were unleashed in South Ossetia – Georgian President Saakashvili said that to demand of him the signing of such a document is nonsense because Georgia does not use force against its own people. Now it turns out that it does. And all of this puts a big question mark over the reliability of Georgia as a state and as a responsible member of the world community.

Peaceful inhabitants, women, children and old people, continue dying in South Ossetia. Many of them have Russian citizenship. The President of the Russian Federation has today unambiguously emphasized that Russia will not allow the deaths of its compatriots to go unpunished, and that the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they are, will be protected in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation and in accordance with the laws of Russia. The President of Georgia from television screens keeps declaring his resolve to continue what he has started. This is being done not only against the background of the Georgian flag, but also against the background of the flag of the European Union. I think that our European colleagues, our American colleagues, who in the last few weeks were in active contact with us and, we understand, taking steps to prevent this situation from passing into a hot phase, understand what is happening. I very much hope that they will draw the right conclusions. We have heard that a minister of the Georgian Government, Mr. Yakobashvili, said that Russia should intervene like a real peacekeeper. I assure you that that's exactly what we are now doing.

I would also like to report that the President of Russia has today ordered the Government to take urgent measures to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees and other peaceful inhabitants who have found themselves in distress. And we will try our best to give them every assistance.

Responding a question from a media member about the statements of Georgian authorities alleging the downing of Russian aircraft in South Ossetia:

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I do not want to comment on the statements which the Georgian leadership makes in describing the situation. The Georgian leadership does not enjoy trust in regard to the facts, if one may say so, they cite. In the place of the Georgian leadership I would not be counting somebody else's tanks and aircraft, but their own tanks that have entered Tskhinvali and their own aircraft that are bombing hospitals, residential buildings and populated areas, including Dzhava where the women and children fleeing from Tskhinvali tried to find an escape.

August 8, 2008