Russia flexes muscle to defend Georgia’s rebel regions

April 26th, 2008 - 12:21 am ICT by admin  

Moscow, April 25 (DPA) Russia held out a threat that it could use military force to protect the citizens of two Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia against attack from Tbilisi, Russian news agencies reported Friday. “While we are doing everything to avert a military scenario,” Valery Kenyaikin, the Russian foreign ministry’s special envoy to the region said, “if a war breaks out, we will have to defend our compatriots even through military means. … There should be no doubt over this.”

Severely escalating tensions in Georgian rebel areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are supported by Moscow, have drawn international concern and efforts to see clear mutual accusations over a spy plane shot down in Abkhazia last week.

On Friday, diplomats in Moscow and Tbilisi charged one another of military preparations along the rebel zones patrolled by Russian peacekeepers since the end of a civil war in the early 1990s.

“We have information that Georgian forces are being regrouped in that area,” said Kenyaikin.

“We do not rule out that Georgia may start a military campaign against Abkhazia in the near future,” he said.

The longstanding row which kept Georgia from its bid to join the pro-Western North Atlantic Treaty Organization intensified after Putin announced plans to tighten diplomatic relations with the two breakaway governments.

Georgia accused Moscow of seeking to “de facto annex” its territory.

Russia officially respects Georgia’s territorial integrity but has warned that Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in February could serve as a precedent and has stepped up ties and lifted trade restrictions against both regions.

Most of the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have acquired Russian passports in recent years.

International organisations have become embroiled in the dispute since Georgia accused a Russian jet of downing one of its reconnaissance planes, while Russia contends that not only did Abkhaz fighters shoot down the drone but the flight was in breach of the United Nations ceasefire.

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