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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Russian firebrand defies Georgia
Vladimir Zhirinovsky
Mr Zhirinovsky is well known for his public outbursts

One of Russia's most outspoken politicians, the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, defied Georgia's warnings on Wednesday by visiting its separatist region of Abkhazia.

Accompanied by about 40 fellow MPs, Mr Zhirinovsky, a deputy speaker in the Russian parliament, arrived in the region's capital, Sukhumi, for what he described as a holiday.

But the Georgian authorities quickly expressed their disapproval with the visit, labelling it a "provocation".

Barely a week ago, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned that ships entering Abkhazia's waters without Georgian permission would be fired upon and sunk.

The Russian authorities reacted angrily to the threat, pledging to meet any attack with "the necessary rebuff".

Mr Zhirinovsky, meanwhile, vowed to spend his holiday in Abkhazia simply to spite the Georgian president. He also invited his colleagues in parliament to join him.

Mixed welcome

Mr Zhirinovsky's journey to Sukhumi was not without incident.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky visits Sukhumi
Mr Zhirinovsky was welcomed by senior Abkhaz officials
Georgian coastguards initially impounded the boat in which he was travelling as it neared Abkhazia. It was later released, in what the Georgian authorities described as a gesture of goodwill.

But the episode did little to undermine the Russian politician's resolve.

Greeted with bouquets and applause as he arrived on land, Mr Zhirinovsky said he would "holiday in Abkhazia" as much as he pleased.

But one of Georgia's deputy state security ministers, Gigi Ugulava, criticised the visit as an act of "severe provocation" and "an attempt to make Georgia lose its temper".

And Badri Bitsadze, the head of the Georgian border guard service, said Mr Zhirinovsky's actions "violated all agreements and international norms", the Interfax news agency reported.

Two of a kind?

Russia's Channel One TV believes the visit highlights some surprising similarities between the veteran Russian politician and Georgia's youthful president.

"At the beginning of his career, Saakashvili was known as the Georgian Zhirinovsky," the report said.

It said both men had a powerful blend of street politics and rhetorical charisma. But this means that "more constructive diplomats" are left the task of calming simmering tempers, the report said.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been strained in recent weeks, in particular because of a dispute over another of Georgia's breakaway regions, South Ossetia.

Georgian Defence Minister Georgy Baramidze has been in Moscow this week for talks on both regions.

Abkhazia, a popular destination for Russian tourists, has been a source of tension between Russia and Georgia since the early 1990s, when pro-Russian separatists drove Georgian forces out amid fierce fighting.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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