Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev hailed his country’s victory in its war with Georgia a year ago, saying it showed the nation’s strength and boosted its role in the world.
Mr Medvedev vowed that Russia would not renege on its recognition of the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions after the brief and bitter war.
Mr 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 honour,” Mr Medvedev told hundreds of servicemen who snapped to attention yesterday 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.
Meanwhile 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 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 on August 7 with the alleged entry of a Russian military convoy into South Ossetia. But Russia marks August 8 as the war’s start - when South Ossetia’s capital came under a Georgian artillery barrage.
Mr 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 manoeuvring, and that they can force Russia to backtrack on that. Such decisions are made once and for all, and there is no way back,” he said.
Speaking in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr Medvedev’s predecessor and mentor Vladimir Putin added that nothing stood in the way of legitimate bilateral ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to the Interfax news agency.
“The situation has become more certain – absolutely certain, clear, and understood. The existing legal basis allow us to develop relations ... without any regard towards those who may not like it,” Mr Putin, now Russia’s prime minister, was quoted as saying.
Only Nicaragua has followed Russia’s lead in recognising 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 ceasefire agreement that called for the full withdrawal of all parties to pre-conflict positions.
Mr Medvedev wrote to French president Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday, who, holding the EU presidency at the time, authored an August 12 peace plan – to thank him for the “big role” he played in ending the hostilities.
Mr Medvedev wrote that the ceasefire agreement “remains the only code of behaviour” 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 recognise its independence, calling that a “politically correct decision”. Georgia has angrily rejected such claims.
Mr 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, saying Ossetian militia engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia.
Speaking before the Russian military officers, Mr 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. Weak states disappear from the world map. Russia must be strong.”