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Europe

Russia to Back Independence for Abkhazia

Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia is reportedly set to lodge a formal appeal for Moscow to recognize it as an independent state. Any move toward formal independence isn't likely to sit well with Tbilisi.

Russian soldiers sit atop of their armored personnel carrier, heading from the city of Senaki towards the Abkhazian border in western Georgia

Russia has committed to support Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Abkhazia will hold a special parliamentary session on Wednesday, Aug. 20, to consider an independence appeal to Russia for recognition by the breakaway region's president Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhaz parliamentary speaker Nugzar Ashuba told Interfax news agency.

Abkhazian flag

Abkhazia has its own flag

"We will request to recognize the independence of our republic," Ashuba was quoted as saying.

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, Sergei Mironov, meanwhile said Wednesday that Russian lawmakers were "ready" to recognize the regions independence from Georgia. An emergency session would be held on Monday to discuss the request, he added.

"The Council of Federation is ready to recognize an independent status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, if the peoples of the two republics want it and if there is a supporting decision of the

President of Russia," Mironov was quoted as saying in the southern Russia city of Vladikavkaz, where he visited refugees from the conflict in Georgia's other breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The decision by the Council of Federation, Russia's upper house of parliament, would have to be approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, said Mironov. However, Medvedev has already promised support for any decision made by Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

De facto independence

Russian troops on Wednesday remained in the two breakaway regions, although Medvedev has said that all but 500 soldiers would withdraw by the weekend.

Map of Georgia with the South Ossetian and Abkhazien regions highlighted

The breakaway regions, shown in yellow, won de facto independence in the early 1990s

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have enjoyed de facto independence since winning a war of succession from Georgia in the early 1990s. They have since strengthened their ties with Russia, though Russia has not yet formally recognized their independence.

Most residents in the two separatist provinces have been issued Russian passports in recent years, but while South Ossetians would like to unite with the ethnically-linked Russian region of North Ossetia, Abkhazia is lobbying to be recognized as an independent country.

Russian lawmakers gave voice to both independence movements in the wake of Kosovo's independence, claiming the cases could not be distinguished, and Russia's increasing support for the rebel regions in recent months was part of the flame that led to war with Georgia in South Ossetia last week.

Any formal move toward independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia is likely to upset Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who promised during his election campaign to bring both regions under Tbilisi's control.

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