MOSCOW (AP) — Russia signed a deal with Georgia’s two breakaway regions Thursday giving Moscow the power to guard their borders — a move sharply criticized in Tbilisi.
President Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signed the agreements at a Kremlin ceremony nearly nine months after the brief war between Russia and Georgia.
The deal is an apparent attempt to legitimize the presence of thousands of Russian troops in the separatist regions, which were at the center of the war.
Russia will guard the borders of both regions including Abkhazia’s territorial waters in the Black Sea, according to the agreement.
After humiliating Georgia’s army, Russia strengthened its control over the two regions and also took over swaths of territory that had been under Georgia’s control before the war.
The U.S. and European Union consider this a violation of the cease-fire, which required all forces to pull back to positions held before the fighting in August.
Moscow’s position was that the cease-fire had been superseded by subsequent agreements with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In signing Wednesday’s deal with Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetia leader Eduard Kokoiti, Medvedev indicated that Russia’s intention was to strengthen this claim.
"This without any doubt is a political act," Medvedev said. "These documents develop the agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance that were signed some time ago in this hall."
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili condemned Wednesday’s deal.
"We are seeing some kind of legal maneuvering to try to legalize, but you cannot legalize something that is fundamentally illegal," he told reporters in Warsaw, Poland. "It is very dangerous to everybody, including Russia itself."
Medvedev suggested that Georgia’s Western partners were jeopardizing the cease-fire through actions that could be seen by the Georgian government as supporting its efforts to rebuild its military. He pointed specifically to NATO military exercises beginning next week in Georgia, calling them an "open provocation."
"Military exercises should not be held where relatively recently there was a war," Medvedev said.