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Georgia's NATO bid bodes ill for Abkhazia, S.Ossetia - Lavrov

RIA Novosti

10/07/2008 20:08 MOSCOW, July 10 (RIA Novosti) - Putting Georgia on the path to NATO membership would harm the ex-Soviet state's chances of resolving conflicts with its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia's foreign minister said Thursday.

Georgia hopes to be invited to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) when the alliance meets in December, and it received support from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visited Tbilisi earlier Thursday.

"We greatly regret Condoleezza Rice's statements before and during her visit to Tbilisi that granting Georgia a NATO MAP would resolve the Georgian-Abkhaz problem. Rather, it would be more likely to 'bury' it," Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov also said Russia insists that Georgia and its breakaway regions sign a treaty not to use force in their disputes.

"It is necessary to sign an agreement not to use force and to ensure de-escalation in the Kodori Gorge. The main thing is to prevent the conflict from being resumed," Lavrov said at a meeting with Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh.

The minister said Russia had submitted a relevant resolution to the UN Security Council.

Lavrov said Russian peacekeepers in the unrecognized republics should not be accused of being biased. "We believe it is unacceptable to accuse them of bias," he said, adding that it was thanks to the Russian presence that there was peace in the two republics.

Washington has criticized Russia's actions in the region and has proposed deploying an international police force to replace Russian peacekeepers in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone.

Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Tuesday on the situation in Georgia, voicing its concerns over Tbilisi's growing military presence near the conflict zones, seen by South Ossetia as evidence of plans for an all-out invasion.

Bagapsh said after Thursday's meeting that an armed conflict could not be ruled out.

"We do not rule out anything, as Georgia has taken the path of terrorism, and terrorism is a path that inevitably leads to clashes," he told journalists, adding that the breakaway regions would not "become similar" to Georgia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which witnessed armed conflicts after declaring independence in the 1990s, have seen a rise in tensions with Tbilisi this year, ranging from air space violations by Georgian aircraft and drones to recent explosions in Abkhazia, to shootouts and the brief arrest of Georgian officers in South Ossetia.

The separatist regimes have accused Tbilisi, which is seeking to regain control over the regions, of being behind the attacks.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Georgia's actions with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia pose a real threat to peace and stability in the South Caucasus.


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