Russia defied international criticism on Sunday by deploying troops along Georgia’s internal border with the two breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Hundreds of troops mounted their first patrols along the contested frontier three days after Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, announced that Moscow was assuming formal control over the boundaries of the two rebel provinces.
The President’s declaration prompted accusations from Georgia that Russia was attempting the stealth annexation of the two regions, which were at the heart of last year’s war in the Caucasus. Both the European Union and the United States strongly condemned Russia’s actions, saying they violated Georgia’s territorial integrity and contravened two ceasefire agreements signed to end the five-day conflict.
Russia invaded Georgia last August to support Ossetian rebels to engage in a war with government forces.
The Kremlin has brushed aside the criticism, however, and has vowed to press ahead with its controversial mission.
“The border must be securely closed and made inaccessible for our enemies,” said Nikolai Lisinsky, Commander of Russian Border Troops in Southern Russia.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to Nato plans to hold a military exercise in Georgia next week, further raising temperatures in the South Caucasus, where tensions have remained high since the war.
The Russian government has threatened unspecified retaliation both to the Nato manoeuvres and to the alliance’s decision last week to expel two Russian diplomats accused of espionage. The brewing row is presenting a significant foreign policy challenge to Barak Obama, the US President, who has vowed to improve relations with Russia, badly strained under his predecessor George W Bush.