MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s parliament on Friday urged the Kremlin to consider recognizing two separatist regions of Georgia, a move likely to anger Georgia and its Western allies who do not want the country broken up.
Lawmakers voted 440-0 to adopt a resolution on Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions that also said Russia should look at speeding up sovereignty for them if pro-Western Georgia is put on the track to membership of NATO.
The resolution is not binding and the Kremlin has not expressed its view, but the vote could stoke Western concerns that Moscow will use Kosovo’s independence -- which it opposed -- as a precedent to recognize separatists in its own back yard.
The vote came two weeks before a NATO summit in Bucharest at which President George W. Bush is expected to press for Georgia and ex-Soviet Ukraine to be set on the path to alliance membership, in defiance of Russian opposition.
“Lawmakers in the State Duma (parliament) ... address the Russian president and government with a proposal to consider the question of the expediency of recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” said the resolution.
It was the Russian parliament’s most explicit expression of support for the two regions’ independence since they threw off Tbilisi’s rule in separatist wars in the 1990s. They now run their own affairs but have no international recognition.
Russia provides financial support to the regions and many of their residents hold Russian passports. Tbilisi says they must remain part of Georgia, a stance backed by the United States and the European Union.
Georgia’s parliament plans to make a statement about the resolution next week, but an ally of President Mikhail Saakashvili said the government would try to stop Russia’s “open aggression”.
Russia’s parliament is dominated by supporters of President Vladimir Putin and its initiatives are often coordinated with the Kremlin.
However, one analyst said the Kremlin had no plans to grant recognition to Abkhazia or South Ossetia and that the resolution was a fig leaf to mask its inaction.
The resolution said in the event of Georgia’s “accelerated movement” towards NATO membership, it would be necessary to “consider the possibility of Russia initiating the speeding up of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s acquisition of sovereignty”.
“After Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, the need has arisen for Russia to modify its policy,” the resolution said. “(The regions) have much more foundation for seeking international recognition than Kosovo.”
Russia has held back from granting recognition because, analysts say, it fears an international backlash and does not want to encourage separatism inside its own borders, especially in the restive Chechnya region.
“It (parliament’s resolution) is a political cover for not granting recognition. I am almost sure of it: Russia will not recognize anything,” said Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
“There will be a lot of noise, there will be statements, there will be this and that, deputies will start to go there actively and speak, but they will not recognize.”
The resolution also includes recommendations that the Russian government open missions in the two regions, ease border restrictions and boost economic ties and humanitarian aid for the separatists.
The Russian decision will aggravate relations even further said Giga Bokeria, the deputy head of Georgia’s parliamentary judicial committee and an ally of Saakashvili.
“Russian lawmakers say it’s linked with Georgia’s possible entry into NATO. We would remind them, that it’s a sovereign right of any independent state. Georgia’s government will do its best to stop an open aggression from Russia,” he told Reuters.
Editing by Giles Elgood