Russia's U.N. ambassador said Tuesday he doesn't think Russia's recognition of two separatist regions in Georgia will lead to a new Cold War, though he predicted a difficult period ahead in relations with the West.
Vitaly Churkin said Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's attack on South Ossetia created a "new reality" that negated U.N. resolutions guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Georgia.
Moscow's announcement earlier Tuesday that it was recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia drew strong criticism from Georgia, the United States and the European Union. But Churkin said he didn't think it would revive the Cold War between the former communist-controlled Soviet Union and the capitalist West.
"I don't see it going that way," Churkin said. "I'm sure there's going to be a rather difficult period in our discussions."
"If it goes in the direction of aggravating relations, it's not going to be our choice," he said. "I want to remind you that Cold War was a completely different beast when we were really at each other's throats in a big way internationally, and this is not going to happen under any circumstances."
Georgia's U.N. Ambassador Irakli Alasania accused Russia of engaging in "territorial expansionist policies" and ethnic cleansing and said the recognition "has no international legal consequence."
"It will create new pressures on the regional level throughout the Caucasus and further complicates international affairs among the powers of the world," Alasania said.
Moscow's recognition was a stark demonstration of the Kremlin's determination to hold sway in lands where its clout is jeopardized by NATO expansion and growing Western influence.
Churkin opened a news conference by reading a statement from Russia's Foreign Ministry explaining President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to recognize the independence of the two provinces.
Asked later by a reporter how Russia's recognition squared with U.N. Security Council resolutions reaffirming the territorial integrity of Georgia, Churkin said: "Their use of force against South Ossetia clearly dashed all of those previous resolutions and created a completely new reality."
France's deputy U.N. Ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix countered that "there is no way you can dash or cancel or ... terminate a resolution of the Security Council by force."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers called Russia's action "completely unjustifiable" and a breach of Moscow's commitments in successive Security Council resolutions and the six-point European Union-brokered cease-fire, which calls for political talks on South Ossetia.
"So in the space of three weeks, Russia has gone from reaffirming Georgia's territorial integrity to using military force to redraw the boundaries of Georgia," he said.
Sawers said Britain, France, the United States and Russia "had been making progress on a Security Council resolution" to set the ground for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, based on the six-point plan.
"But frankly territorial integrity was an essential part of that and Russia's actions today have put a massive block in the way of achieving a common Security Council position," he said.