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Russia may track shipping in neutral waters around Abkhazia

RIA Novosti

21:22 02/10/2009 SUKHUMI, October 2 (RIA Novosti) - Russia could monitor and escort ships in neutral waters heading to Abkhazia to protect them from possible Georgian provocations, the Russian foreign minister said on Friday.

"We are certain that we could arrange such escorts of these cargoes that would guarantee protection from these provocations," Sergei Lavrov said during his current visit to Abkhazia.

Tbilisi considers Abkhazia and its waters part of Georgian territory, and has declared any unauthorized maritime shipments of goods to be illegal. Georgia has seized a number of cargo vessels heading to Abkhazia.

Under mutual assistance treaties signed last November following Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, Moscow pledged to help both republics protect their borders, and the signatories granted each other the right to set up military bases in their respective territories.

Russia recognized the republics shortly after a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008 that began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.

Abkhazia vowed in early September to use force to prevent Georgian "acts of piracy," and Russia started the deployment of its patrol boats off the Abkhaz coast.

The first coast guard ship, the Novorossiisk patrol boat arrived in Abkhazia on September 20. It is part of a Russian coast guard contingent that will be based at the Abkhaz port of Ochamchira. The division is expected to have up to 10 Sobol class and Mangust class patrol boats.

A senior Russian coast guard official has said Russia will detain any vessel that violates Abkhazia's maritime border. Georgia responded by saying it would resist any such attempts by Russian ships.

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