Saakashvili says unrest fomented by Russia

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The Independent Online

The Georgian President accused Russia yesterday of deliberately stirring up ethnic clashes in the restive region of South Ossetia to prevent Georgia from growing closer to Nato.

The Georgian President accused Russia yesterday of deliberately stirring up ethnic clashes in the restive region of South Ossetia to prevent Georgia from growing closer to Nato.

At a meeting with journalists in London, President Mikhail Saakashvili also revealed that British military involvement in Georgia is deeper than admitted by British officials. He said that 160 members of special forces had been engaged in training the Georgian army, in addition to advisers being posted to the defence ministry.

As a result of the military training, mainly by the Americans, but also by the Turks and British, Georgian troops are now "superior to any existing Russian regiments anywhere in Russia," he boasted.

Mr Saakashvili said that Russia, which is "paranoid" about Nato encirclement of its borders, deliberately fomented the unrest which exploded last weekend, as part of a policy aimed at keeping Russian soldiers on Georgian territory. "The whole thing started because Russia thinks Nato is closing in," he said.

The crisis, which threatened to escalate into full-scale military confrontation between Russia and Georgia, was only defused after hours of telephone diplomacy involving the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, the US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian President.

Mr Saakashvili, whose goal is for Georgia to join Nato and the European Union, has pledged to bring the country's pro-Russian breakaway regions under Tbilisi's control. Since his election in January, following the ousting of Eduard Shevardnadze as President, he has already managed to ensure the departure of the Ajaria leader, Aslan Abashidze, who ran the breakaway region on the Turkish border like a fiefdom.

Mr Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer, predicted yesterday that South Ossetia would be integrated into the rest of Georgia "within six months".

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