Medvedev: Defeat of Georgia Showed Russian Might

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday hailed the Russian victory in a war with Georgia a year ago, saying it showed the nation's strength and boosted its role in the world.

Medvedev vowed that Russia would not renege on its recognition of the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions after the brief and bitter war.

Medvedev awarded medals to servicemen who fought in the war, in which thousands of Russian troops crushed the Georgian military in five days of fighting.

"You have defended Russia's dignity and you have fulfilled your duty with honor," Medvedev told hundreds of servicemen who snapped to attention at a rain soaked base on the outskirts of Vladikavkaz, not far from the Georgian border.

Rows of tanks and rocket launchers were parked in a show of military might.

Also Saturday, the leader of one of Georgia's separatist regions pressed his case that Georgia was the aggressor by opening what he called a genocide museum.

The statements were part of a continuing public relations battle over how the war is seen by the global public opinion. One year after it ended, Russia and Georgia are still trying to blame each other for starting the war.

Georgia claims the war began late Aug. 7, 2008, with the alleged entry of a Russian military convoy into South Ossetia. Russia marks Aug. 8 as the war's start — when South Ossetia's capital came under a Georgian artillery barrage.

Medvedev said Russia's recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway province, was the only way to protect the people there. He said that Russia would not backtrack on its recognition of the two regions' independence.

"Some of our partners have an illusion that it's a temporary thing, some kind of maneuvering, and that they can force Russia to backtrack on that. Such decisions are made once and for all, and there is no way back," Medvedev said.

Only Nicaragua has followed Russia's lead in recognizing the regions, which Georgia calls occupied territory and where thousands of Russian troops remain based, as independent countries.

Russia considered its recognition of their independence to have absolved it of a clause in an EU-brokered cease-fire agreement that called for the full withdrawal of all parties to pre-conflict positions.

Medvedev wrote Saturday to French President Nicolas Sarkozy who, holding the EU presidency at the time, authored an Aug. 12 peace plan — to thank him for the "big role" he played in ending the hostilities.

Medvedev wrote that the cease-fire agreement "remains the only code of behavior" in the region and that Russia has fulfilled its obligations under it.

In the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, separatist leader Eduard Kokoity called for Georgia to recognize its independence, calling that a "politically correct decision." Georgia has angrily rejected such claims.

Kokoity also opened what he called a genocide museum in Tskhinvali, a memorial to those who died in the Georgian artillery strikes and a testament to the separatists' contention that Georgia tried to rid the region of Ossetians.

Georgia has rejected those claims, alleging instead that Ossetian militia engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia.

Speaking before the Russian military officers, Medvedev said the war helped bolster Russian global stance.

"The situation in the world and the attitude to Russia have changed," he said.

"Only a strong state can ensure a normal life for its citizens," he said. "Weak states disappear from the world map. Russia must be strong."