Russia establishes diplomatic relations with Ossetia, Abkhazia

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Moscow, Sep 9 (UNI) Russia today established formal diplomatic relations with Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

''We have exchanged notes that constitute agreements to establish diplomatic relations between Russia and Abkhazia and between Russia and South Ossetia,'' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced at a press conference, after talks with the South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioyev and Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba.

The three foreign Ministers also countersigned friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance agreements, Lavrov said.

''We gave our consent to prepared drafts, countersigned the texts of these documents and they are now ready to be signed at the high level, which is going to happen soon,'' he said.

The diplomatic moves follow Moscow's decision to recognise the breakaway regions' independence after Georgia tried to retake South Ossetia by force last month. Nicaragua became the second country to recognise their independence.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has also said Minsk would soon recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Lukashenko yesterday said a decision on the issue would follow a parliamentary election at the end of this month. Russia today said it will keep 7,600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia after withdrawing from Georgia.

Yesterday, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from positions within Georgia, taken up during the recent conflict, by mid-October.

President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to withdraw troops from the rest of Georgia on condition that the EU would deploy at least 200 observers, along with 220 other international monitors to ensure the security of the two breakaway regions.

Under the deal, Russia will pull out within 10 days of the deployment of EU monitors. However, Medvedev ordered that military bases be maintained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Lavrov said troops were expected to remain in the two regions ''for the foreseeable future.'' He added that both regions should also be able to participate in talks on Georgia scheduled for next month in Geneva with ''fully fledged'' places.

Russia is expected to sign formal agreements on troop deployment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia over the coming days.

Russian troops are present in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in the so-called buffer zones around these regions and near the strategic port city of Poti.

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