Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 13:21 UK

Russia criticised over Abkhazia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file image)
Vladimir Putin insists Russia does not want to annex the breakaway regions

Western powers have urged Russia to reverse plans for closer ties with two breakaway Georgian regions - plans which Georgia sees as a threat.

The US, Britain, France and Germany said they were "highly concerned" about Russia's moves.

The Russian president's order last week to forge closer links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia angered Tbilisi.

Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, called the demand by the Western states "a tall order".

After a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, the four states issued a statement saying: "We call on the Russian Federation to revoke or not to implement its decision."

'Creeping annexation'

Georgia's foreign minister, who flew to the US for the talks and also met the US secretary of state on Wednesday, said Russia's "unilateral steps" amounted to "creeping annexation" of the two regions.

Georgia map
David Bakradze said Moscow's lifting of trade sanctions against Abkhazia risked allowing a military build-up in the region and represented a challenge to Georgia's jurisdiction over the area.

Russia's ambassador to the UN said there was nothing "anti-Georgian" in his country's moves.

He also underlined that Russia had no intention of reversing its plans.

"This is not the kind of thing which we would expect from our international partners," Mr Churkin said.

Tensions between the two countries flared after a Georgian spy drone was shot down over the breakaway region of Abkhazia on Sunday.

Spy plane row

Georgia's defence ministry produced a video which appeared to show the unmanned aircraft shot down by a Russian jet, saying this constituted "an act of open aggression".

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident, blaming Abkhaz rebels, who have also claimed responsibility.

Georgia's air force commander shows footage that allegedly shows a Russian aircraft shooting down the Georgian plane

But the four Western countries condemned the downing of the spy plane, calling on all parties, "to renounce any armed or military action and to respect Georgia's sovereignty".

The Russian foreign ministry says the presence of the drone violated UN ceasefire agreements and has suggested the footage is fake.

Russian and UN peacekeepers have been deployed in the two regions since the early 1990s, when violence erupted as they broke free from Georgian control.

Russia has asserted that it is not seeking to inflame the situation but to try and protect the rights and legal interests of Russian citizens who make up the majority of the population in the two regions.

Russia says rebels downed plane
22 Apr 08 |  Europe
Georgia angered by Russian move
16 Apr 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
18 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Georgia
18 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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