Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 00:10 UK

Georgia breaks ties with Russia

A man burns a Russian flag outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi on 27 August
A protester burns the Russian flag outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi

Georgia has decided to cut diplomatic ties with Russia, days after Moscow recognised the independence of Georgia's two breakaway regions.

Moscow said the decision would "not help bilateral relations" between the nations, who had a brief war this month over breakaway region South Ossetia.

Reports suggest Russia means to deepen its involvement with the two regions.

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.

Western governments have been fiercely critical of Moscow since Russian troops poured into the two regions in early August - forcing Georgian forces out.

Mikheil Saakashvili believes Russia invaded Georgia to "destroy the country"

Earlier this week, the powerful G7 group of nations said Moscow's recognition of the two provinces' independence broke international law.

The Kremlin has hit back, labelling the G7 statement "biased" and "groundless".

EU states, Moscow said, were at a crossroads over the conflict and it hoped reason would prevail at next week's EU summit, which will discuss the crisis.

'Georgia's responsibility'

Georgia had already announced that it would scale back staffing at its Moscow embassy, and that its ambassador - who was withdrawn last month - would not be returning.

But the foreign ministry now says all of its diplomats will return from the Moscow embassy by Saturday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said his ministry had received its instructions and "the final decision has been made".

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Moscow regretted Tbilisi's decision.

"The possible end of diplomatic relations with Georgia is not the choice of Moscow, and Tbilisi will have to bear the entire responsibility," the state-controlled Tass news agency reported him as saying.

It is expected the Russian embassy in Tbilisi will also now close down, the BBC's Richard Galpin reports from Tbilisi..

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

Georgian officials did not give any reasons for the decision, but it comes amid reports that Moscow intends to extend its involvement in the two provinces - which both have Russian-backed governments.

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

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

The Russian Interfax news agency reported that Moscow would 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.

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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