Asia Crisis

Ban denies charge of bowing to 'Russian blackmail'

* UN chief says Georgian allegation is 'unfortunate'

* Ban wants no politicization of Georgia-Russia dispute (Updates with Russian response)

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday rejected Georgia's accusation that he caved in to "Russian blackmail" by changing the language in his latest report on the Caucasus state.

Georgia's U.N. ambassador accused Ban on Wednesday of succumbing to Russian pressure to depart from past practice and not refer to the breakaway region of Abkhazia as part of Georgia in his report delivered to the Security Council on May 18.

"The claim by the Georgian Permanent Representative that the Secretary-General amended his report on Georgia in response to 'Russian blackmail' is categorically rejected. The statement itself is very unfortunate," Ban said in a statement issued by his press office.

Ban's report outlined the present security situation and recommendations for keeping the fragile peace between the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Abkhazia objects to any implication it is under Tbilisi's control, a position Russia has vehemently defended.

While the dispute is over the wording of a U.N. report, it highlights the animosity that remains between NATO-aspirant Georgia and Russia, which invaded its southern neighbor in August in a brief war over the status of South Ossetia.

Tbilisi is worried about an erosion of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence last year.


The fighting last year drew intense interest from Western states because it jeopardized a key transit route for Caspian oil and gas, which bypasses Russia.

Ban's statement reiterated a desire in his choice of words to avoid politicizing the debate within the Security Council "and reflected his view of what all members could live with."

The United Nations' mission of 129 military observers and 16 police advisors in Abkhazia expires on June 15, and the Security Council must renew its mandate with a fresh resolution or pull out.

Georgia's U.N. ambassador, Alexander Lomaia, told Reuters on Wednesday an individual in Ban's office had informed him that Russia would veto any resolution to extend the mandate if the language was not changed. He declined to identify the source.

"The Secretary-General rejects any suggestion that any threats were made to him in this connection," Ban's statement said.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. Ambassador, dismissed Georgia's allegations, saying on Thursday he was present during talks between Ban and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which included discussions about the United Nations' Georgia mission.

"(At) no stage of this discussion of the report Russia ever threatened any kind of veto. So (Lomaia's) allegations are untrue on every count. No veto was threatened. His sources were not reliable and he was not speaking responsibly," Churkin said.

Attempts to reach Lomaia on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The title of the report delivered was: "Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1808 (2008), 1839 (2008), and 1866 (2009)."

Ban's prior report on Feb. 3, 2009 was entitled: "Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, pursuant to Security Council resolution 1839 (2008)." (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)