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Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 11:49 UK

Russia hits back at G7 criticism

Georgians mourn soldiers killed in the conflict, 28/08
Georgians have been burying soldiers killed in the conflict

Criticism by the G7 group of nations of Russia's actions in Georgia is biased and groundless, Russian officials say.

The G7 was trying to justify Georgian aggression towards the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia's Foreign Ministry said.

Moscow's decision to recognise the two regions as independent was labelled a breach of international law by the G7.

Meanwhile, a rights group has said UN satellite images prove ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia were torched.

Human Rights Watch says the pictures of five villages near the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, are "compelling evidence of war crimes and grave human rights abuses".

The organisation called on the Russian government to prosecute those responsible.

Putin 'not rational'

Russia's Foreign Ministry accused the G7 of making "baseless assertions about Russia undermining Georgia's territorial integrity".

"This step is biased and is aimed at justifying the aggressive actions of Georgia," the ministry said.

Although Russia is not part of the G7, it has close ties with the bloc and is a member of its sister grouping, the G8.

The statement comes as officials in the Moscow-backed governments of both provinces hinted at closer ties with Russia.

South Ossetia's parliamentary speaker Znaur Gassiyev said Russia would absorb the region within "several years", according to a report by the Associated Press.

SOUTH OSSETIA & ABKHAZIA
BBC map
South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000 (before recent conflict)
Capital: Tskhinvali
President: Eduard Kokoity
Abkhazia
Population: About 250,000 (2003)
Capital: Sukhumi
President: Sergei Bagapsh

He said the move had been agreed at high-level talks in Moscow earlier this week.

The Russian Interfax news agency reported that Moscow will sign an agreement next week allowing it to set up military bases in the region.

And Interfax also quoted Abkhazia's foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, as saying his province "may become part of the Union State of Russia and Belarus".

The Kremlin has not yet commented on the reports, though the Foreign Ministry is due to hold a press conference later.

The claims come a day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stoked up the war of words with the US.

He told CNN there was a "suspicion" that the Georgian conflict was created by someone in the US in the hope of benefitting one of the candidates in the presidential elections.

The White House dismissed Mr Putin's assertions as "not rational".

Russia's worsening relations with the West had led to suggestions that the EU would impose sanctions against Moscow at a leaders' summit next Monday.

But officials in France - which currently holds the EU presidency - said such measures would not be adopted at this stage.

The conflict in the region began on 7 August when Georgia tried to retake South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes.

Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

An EU-brokered ceasefire brought a formal end to the conflict, although each side has accused the other of breaking the agreement.



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