ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Georgian leaders are reacting angrily to this latest development in the conflict with Russia. NPR's Mike Shuster has that story from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

MIKE SHUSTER: At first, there was just stunned silence in Tbilisi when word came that Russia's president had recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Many in the Georgian government did not think Medvedev would take this step, even though the two houses of the Russian parliament called for this action yesterday.

Eventually, Georgian officials began to react. One senior figure in the Foreign Ministry said the Russian action was tantamount to annexation of the disputed territories, assuming that as so-called independent states South Ossetia and Abkhazia would petition to join the Russian Federation, a goal their leaders have sought for many years.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili called together a meeting of his national security council. Afterwards, Saakashvili went on national television and declared that the Russian action was completely illegal. Russia was trying to destroy Georgia's government, something it couldn't do, he said, by military force.

President MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI (Georgia): (Speaking foreign language)

SHUSTER: This is the first attempt in Europe since Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, Saakashvili said, when a big country has tried to destroy a neighbor and openly annex its territory and change Europe's internal boundaries.

Just what Georgia can do about this is unclear. Military action is out of the question, because Georgia's army all but fell apart during the recent military confrontation with Russian forces. Saakashvili appealed for Western help, as he has done throughout this crisis, insisting that it is now time for the European Union and NATO to speed the integration of Georgia.

The international community reacted swiftly to the Russian move. From Europe to the U.S., the reaction was firm and uniformly negative. Secretary of State Rice, traveling in the Middle East, was sharply critical of Russia. If Russia tries to gain recognition for its moves at the U.N. Security Council, Rice said, the United States will stand in the way with its veto.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): Since the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival in the Security Council. And therefore, in accordance with other Security Council resolutions that are still in force, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and it's going to remain so.

SHUSTER: There were similarly critical statements from France's foreign minister, who condemned this decision. Likewise, the comments of NATO's secretary general, the British foreign secretary, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who had recently tried to act as a bridge between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Speaking foreign language)

SHUSTER: This contradicts my own and, I think, all our ideas, Merkel said during a visit to Estonia, adding the Russian action is totally unacceptable.

Despite the common front the U.S. and Europe displayed today in the face of Russia's action, there were no clear proposals of what could be done concretely to confront Russia, not to speak of reversing its action.

That was the dilemma of the West during the short, nasty military confrontation between Georgia and Russia earlier this month, and that remains the dilemma of the West in the face of Russia's declaration of support for the independence of the two rebel enclaves.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tbilisi.

SIEGEL: And you can find an interactive map of Georgia and its border with Russia at our Web site, npr.org.

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