Russian President Vladimir Putin drew a direct rebuke from the State Department with a recent visit to territory seized from neighboring Georgia in 2008.
"The United States views the visit of President Putin to the Russian occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia as inappropriate and inconsistent with the principles underlying the Geneva International Discussions, to which Russia is a party," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday evening.
Putin's trip Tuesday coincided with the ninth anniversary of a five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia that took place in the waning months of George W. Bush's presidency. He used the visit to announce closer economic and military ties with Abkhazia, which the Russians have recognized as an independent state but Georgia maintains is an occupied territory that is rightfully part of their country.
"The United States urges Russia to withdraw its forces to pre-war positions per the 2008 ceasefire agreement and reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Nauert said.
Putin, saying Russia has a "spiritual kinship" with the territories, made clear that's not his intention. He announced that the non-ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia who received citizenship from Russia will now be eligible for "Russia's mandatory health insurance system" and touted economic and military ties.
"During the talks, we agreed to more closely coordinate our efforts to resist challenges and threats to security in the South Caucasus," Putin said following a meeting with the head of the local government. "The integrated Russian military base on Abkhazian territory continues to play a crucial role in maintaining stability in the region."
Putin's invasion of Georgia — on behalf of separatists who had received Russian citizenship — was a significant development in Russia's emergence from post-Cold War defeat as an adversary for the United States. He had signaled the new posture a year earlier, at the 2007 Munich security conference, in a denunciation of the United States status as the world's lone superpower.
"Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy," Putin said at the time. "We are not going to change this tradition today."
The Russo-Georgia war bears some similarities to the more recent Ukraine crisis, as well, in which Russian military forces have annexed Crimea and helped separatists in eastern Ukraine fight against the central government. Tillerson has appointed a special envoy to broker an end to the Ukraine fighting and Nauert said the United States wouldn't recognize the taking of territory in Georgia, either.
"The United States fully supports Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and rejects Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," she said.