LONDON/MOSCOW (Interfax/Reuters)–The president of Georgia said on Wednesday he believed a mounting crisis in the breakaway region of South Ossetia could be resolved in about six months if the West put pressure on Russia.
"There should be continued pressure from the West and we must make Russia realize we will not be pushed around," Mikhail Saakashvili said during a visit to London which has included a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"I am sure within six months or more these few thousand people (in South Ossetia) will be fully integrated (into Georgia)."
Saakashvili has made restoration of central power over restive regions a key policy plank since his landslide election victory in January.
He has since succeeded in removing a local strongman in Ajaria on the Black Sea. But bringing back into the fold mountainous South Ossetia and Abkhazia–also on the Black Sea–is certain to be a much tougher task.
Stability in the Caucasus region is critical to Western interests as a major pipeline is being built through Georgia to transport oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
South Ossetia’s co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission on the settling of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict–Boris Chochiyev–said on Wednesday that all sides present at the Commission’s session in Moscow are currently preparing their versions of the session’s final protocol.
"Currently–the Russian–North Ossetian and the South Ossetian sides are working on the project–but the final protocol can only be approved if the Georgian side takes part [in the production of the final protocol]," Chochiyev told journalists.
He said that the Russian–North Ossetian and South Ossetian chairmen of the commission have doubts about the return of Georgian State Minister on Separatist Conflicts Goga Khaindrava–who left the session.
Representatives of North and South Ossetia–Georgia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are taking part in the Joint Control Commission’s session.
Tension in South Ossetia–where separatists broke away from central control after a conflict in the 1990s–has increased in recent weeks.
Russia accuses Georgia of violating a 1992 deal overseeing a truce and of trying to trigger a new military confrontation. Georgia in turn accuses Russian peacekeepers in the region of siding with separatists and of trying to arm them.
The situation came close to a climax last weekend when Russia’s said peacekeepers in the area had the right to use force to impose peace and Georgians said they were prepared to resort to arms to repel Russian aggression.
Saakashvili said US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had helped ease the situation by speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And he acknowledged the EU had spoken up for Georgia.
"I wouldn’t expect Britain to have a confrontation but it is a matter of being part of a multilateral mechanism," he said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said: "We support the territorial integrity of Georgia and support the OSCE in its mediation efforts."
Saakashvili said 160 British military staff were helping to train the Georgian army and had taken part in joint exercises. US forces have also been involved in training.
The president said signs of Georgia’s closer ties with the West and NATO had prompted Russia to stir up tension in South Ossetia. Moscow–he said–had no strategic interest in the region.
"South Ossetia is not the price Georgia is willing to pay for anything–for closer relations with NATO," said Saakashvili.