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Europe

EU, NATO Concerned as Russia Boosts Ties to Separatists

The EU's foreign policy chief expressed concern after Russia decided to intensify its links to two separatist regions in Georgia. NATO's secretary general called on Moscow to reverse the measures.

Waving the flags of Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, local residents ride a car as they celebrate the independence referendum in South Ossetia, Nov. 12, 2006

Russia has so far shied away from explicitly recognizing the two breakaway regions

"We are concerned about these unilateral decisions, we have always supported Georgia's territorial integrity," said Christina Gallach, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman, on Wednesday, April 16.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer went further, calling on Russia to roll back its plans.

"I am deeply concerned by the actions Russia has taken to establish legal links with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement. "I urge the Russian Federation to reverse these measures, and call on the Georgian authorities to continue to show restraint," he added.

Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to boost ties to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including recognizing businesses and organizations registered in the regions.


Russia 's backyard

"This is an attempt to legalize the annexation of two Georgian regions," Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said in a statement. "It contradicts all international laws. Georgia will use all diplomatic, political and legal tools to stop this process, which destabilizes the situation in the region."

Putin and Saakashvili

Saakashvili (r.) is wary of Putin

Pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has long accused Russia of stirring up separatist sentiment.

Officials in Abkhazia and South Ossetia said Moscow's actions were a step toward recognizing their independence.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgian control during wars in the 1990s. They are economically dependent on Russia.

Moscow's move comes two weeks after NATO provoked the Kremlin's anger by agreeing at a summit in Bucharest that Georgia would eventually join the alliance. Just one month ago, Russia dropped sanctions against Abkhazia, which caused increased trade and prompted Georgian condemnation.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that its actions were meant to "[strengthen] security and stability in the Caucasus region."



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