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Europe

Georgia Accuses Russia of Military Aggression

Georgia criticized Russia's plans to boost troops in two break-away Georgian territories as the start of full scale military aggression. Moscow maintains the troops are serving in a peacekeeping mission.

Georgian troops near Abkhazia

Russia has accused Georgia of building up troops at the Abkhazian border

"It's hard to believe that this is being done for the purposes of peacekeeping, it's rather the beginning of full scale military aggression," Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze told the AFP news agency on Wednesday, 30 April.

Russia has deployed additional troops to the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The move stoked tensions with the former Soviet republic and drew criticism from the EU.

An undefined number of Russian soldiers were sent to the Caucasus territories on Tuesday after Moscow accused Georgia of massing troops on the border to Abkhazia and acquiring a large number of offensive weapons.

"Russia is not preparing for war, but we can cite a number of examples pointing to the fact that the Georgian leadership might be pushing for a resolution of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian secession by force," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

If it does so, "we will be forced to take retaliatory measures to protect the lives of our citizens," he added.

Georgia has repeatedly accused Russia of attempting to annex the two territories, which have had close ties with Moscow since the mid-1990s. Many of the residents hold Russian passports and reject Georgian control. Russia has said the troops it has stationed in Abkhazia are there for peacekeeping purposes.

Tensions between Georgia and Russia have heightened lately as Tbilisi negotiates with NATO over possible future membership, which Moscow strongly opposes.

Georgia appeals to separatist region

A map of Georgia, with Abkhazia indicated to the North

Abkhazian separatists don't accept Georgian rule

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called on Abkhazia and South Ossetia to reject an "outrageous and irresponsible" force that is trying to provoke a conflict.

Rebel leaders in the two Moscow-backed regions, however, immediately rejected Saakashvili's offer of solidarity.

"The co-existence of Abkhazia and Georgia in a unified state is impossible," said Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh.

Russian troops have been involved in the region since 1994. Following separatist wars, the UN brokered a peacekeeping agreement that stipulated Russia's presence in the territories, which had established close ties with Moscow in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

EU calls Russia's move "unwise"

The EU was critical of Russia's decision to enlarge its military force. Some 2,000 Russian soldiers are already stationed in Abkhazia and 1,000 in South Ossetia.

"It is not wise to increase the number of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia right now," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"We defend the territorial integrity of Georgia," Solana added.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili

Saakashvili encouraged Abkhazia and South Ossetia to reject Russia's involvement

Lavrov declined to indicate how many additional soldiers would be sent to the region, saying it "remains in the limits foreseen."

Earlier this month Russia lifted a range of economic sanctions that had been in place for two years against Georgia, including the complete closure of land, air and sea links.

However, tensions have repeatedly flared since, including Georgia's accusation that a Russian aircraft shot down an unmanned surveillance drone deployed over Abkhazia.

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