US: Russia seeks regime change in Georgia

An excerpt of the exchange between the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalizad, and the Russian UN Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, at the UN Security Council meeting on 10 August 2008:

Mr KHALILZAD (United States) noted that, despite his polemics, Mr Churkin had not responded to the call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to the status quo ante. In fact, he had acknowledged the Russian Federation’s refusal to deal with the democratically elected Government of Georgia, acknowledged that the situation was no longer about South Ossetia, attacked the United Nations Secretariat and made reference to other conflicts.

He went on to say that Mr Churkin had referred to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s phone conversations with United States State Secretary Condoleezza Rice this morning, a conversation that raised serious questions about Russia’s objectives in the conflict. Mr Lavrov had said that President Saakashvili, the democratically elected President of Georgia, “must go”, which was completely unacceptable and “crossed the line.” Was Russia’s objective regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country? Russia must affirm that its aim was not to change the Government of Georgia and that it accepted Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian Federation was threatening Georgia’s territorial integrity, and the Council must act decisively to reaffirm it.

Mr CHURKIN (Russian Federation), describing Mr Khalilzad’s statement as polemical in nature, said the Council had heard enough polemics today, but he would respond on substance. Regarding the ceasefire, the Russian Federation’s previous statement had explained the formula that would lead to an end of bloodshed – Georgia’s withdrawal from South Ossetia and agreement on the non-use of force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today, Georgia’s representative had been hinting that he agreed to that, so why did Georgia not withdraw its forces? Russia would not prevent it.

Turning to “an interesting reference” to a confidential diplomatic phone call between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Rice, he said “regime change” was an American expression that Russia did not use. As was known from history, different leaders came to power either democratically or semi-democratically, becoming an obstacle to their people’s emergence from difficult situations. The Russian Federation was encouraged by Mr Khalilzad’s public reference to that, which meant he was ready to bring it into the public realm.

Mr KHALILZAD (United States) asked whether the goal of the Russian Federation was to change the leadership of Georgia.

Mr CHURKIN (Russian Federation) suggested that he had given a complete response and perhaps the United States representative had not been listening when he had given his response, perhaps he had not had his earpiece on.

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