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Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 10:42 UK

US anger at Russian Georgia vote

An Abkhaz separatist tank crewman relaxes in the Kodori Gorge on 14 August
South Ossetia and Abkhazia have had de facto independence for years

US President George W Bush has urged Russia not to recognise Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Mr Bush's comments came after Russia's parliament passed a non-binding motion calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to support the enclaves' independence bid.

Meanwhile, the US says its warships will deliver aid to Georgia's port of Poti, which is under Russian control.

The move could mean US and Russian forces coming face-to-face.

Although most of Russia's forces pulled out of Georgia last Friday, some troops continue to operate near the Black Sea port of Poti, south of Abkhazia, where Russia says it will carry out regular inspections of cargo.

Georgia has accused Moscow of trying to impose an economic stranglehold on Georgia.

Until now American aid has been delivered to the Georgian port of Batumi, further south. But the US embassy said that "at the request of the Georgian government", two US ships would dock in Poti on Wednesday.

Georgians 'moved out'

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war this month over Georgia's two breakaway provinces.

They are clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia [of] Georgians

Alexander Stubb, OSCE

Moscow launched a counter-attack after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia from rebels by military force.

The US and a number of Western governments have backed Georgia, sending aid and issuing strongly-worded statements.

In a statement, Mr Bush called on Russia's leadership to "meet its commitments and not recognise these separatist regions".

"The United States will continue to stand with the people of Georgia and their democracy and to support its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.

The US state department has said recognition of the two provinces' independence would be "a violation of Georgian territorial integrity" and "inconsistent with international law".

Leaders from Germany, the UK and Italy also expressed concern that the vote would raise tensions further in the Caucasus.

Meanwhile Alexander Stubb, the head of the European security organisation, the OSCE, has accused Russia of trying to empty South Ossetia of Georgians.

He told the BBC that OSCE military observers were trying to visit as much of South Ossetia as possible to clarify the situation.

US McFaul in Georgian waters
The US McFaul has so far only delivered aid to Batumi

"They are clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia [of] Georgians, which I don't think goes by any of the books that we deal with in international relations," he said.

Large parts of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have effectively been independent since breaking away in the early 1990s.

While they have enjoyed Russian economic and diplomatic support, and military protection, no foreign state has yet recognised them as independent states.

On the ground, Russian troops continue to operate in buffer zones that Russia controversially set up within undisputed Georgian territory.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the weekend that, under the terms of the ceasefire he had helped broker, troops from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) would move into these buffer zones.

But senior Russian officials now say they never agreed to allow international peacekeepers to patrol in the zones, and also say they will not allow aerial reconnaissance over the zones.

'Hitler' comparison

The upper house, Federation Council, voted 130-0 to call on President Medvedev to support the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The lower house, the State Duma, approved the same resolution in a 447-0 vote shortly afterwards.

It's a historic day for Abkhazia... and South Ossetia
Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhazian leader

The Federation Council speaker, Sergei Mironov, said both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had all the necessary attributes of independent states.

During the debate in the two chambers, several speakers compared Georgia's military action in South Ossetia with Hitler's World War II invasion of the Soviet Union.

Both Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, addressed the Russian lawmakers before the votes, urging them to recognise the independence of the two regions.

"It's a historic day for Abkhazia... and South Ossetia," Mr Bagapsh said, adding that Abkhazia would never again be part of Georgia.

Mr Kokoity thanked Russia for supporting South Ossetia during the conflict with Georgia, describing President Medvedev's move to deploy troops as "a courageous, timely and correct" decision.

He said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia had more rights to become recognised nations than Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia earlier this year with support from the US and much of the European Union.

Both houses of the Russian parliament are dominated by allies of Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin.

BBC map

The lawmakers interrupted their summer holidays for extraordinary sittings, formally called at the request of separatist leaders in the two Georgian provinces.

In a televised address, President Saakashvili dismissed the vote, saying: "Nobody can legalise the annexation of the Georgian territories."

While both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been pushing for formal independence since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia's official line at least until now has been similar to that of the West, the BBC's Humphrey Hawksley reports from Moscow.

But in March the State Duma passed a resolution supporting independence should Georgia invade or rush to join Nato.

After Monday's votes, the bill will be sent to the Kremlin for approval.

Analysts say the Kremlin might delay its decision while it carries out wider negotiations with the West on the crisis.


Should Abkhazia and South Ossetia be independent? Can normal life ever be resumed in Georgia?

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