Russia denies 'secret deals' with Georgia on breakaway regions

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Moscow, Feb 28 (UNI) Russia has denied that it had reached a 'secret deal' with the former Soviet republic of Georgia on its breakaway regions.

''We will never resort to backstage deals, reports on this are absolutely groundless,'' Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement while commenting on the remarks by Georgian officials yesterday that Moscow had allegedly pledged never to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence.

The officials gave ''a free interpretation of the results of a recent meeting'' between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, the statement said, adding the subject was only briefly mentioned during the presidents' meeting on February 21 and Mr Putin had made no assurances on the issue.

''Russia on the contrary reiterated that it will not copy illegitimate moves by some Western countries. But Kosovo's unilaterally proclaimed independence will now undoubtedly influence our foreign policy,'' Russian Foreign Ministry said, stressing Moscow was committed to a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Georgia.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Georgia in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, sparking off bloody conflicts.

Georgia has been seeking to regain its influence in the separatist regions and secure international support on the issue.

Russia has hinted that it may recognise both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the wake of Kosovo's recent unilateral declaration of independence and its subsequent recognition by the US and a host of other Western countries.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of Kosovo's independence will set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

Moscow helped end bloody conflicts between Georgia and its breakaway republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has since maintained a peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zones.

Georgia has accused Moscow of backing separatism on its territory. The issue has been one of the stumbling blocks in relations between Russia and Georgia under the pro-Western Saakashvili, who is seeking to integrate the nation into the EU and NATO.

UNI XC ARB RN1530

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