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Europe rebukes Russia for installing border markers in Georgia

TBILISI, July 20 (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk criticised Russia on Monday for placing border markers around the breakaway South Ossetia region of Georgia, a move which seemed to put part of an international oil pipeline in territory under Russian control.

Tbilisi has not controlled South Ossetia or Abkhazia, another breakaway region, since fighting a brief war with Moscow in 2008. Both regions host Russian military bases, but most countries and the United Nations regard them as part of Georgia.

Russian troops have been installing barbed wire and fences around South Ossetia ever since the war. But residents say the soldiers have now erected border signs up to about 1.5 km (one mile) beyond the administrative border.

“I consider the recent installation of markers along the so-called administrative border with Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia to be a step in a wrong direction,” Tusk told a news conference after meeting Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili. “It’s clearly a provocation.”

The Georgian president on Monday condemned Russia’s action again, following official statements from Tbilisi last week.

“Any new barbed wire or a border marker installed on our territory was, is and will be unacceptable for us,” Margvelashvili told the news conference. “Any such step is painful for us.”

Georgia condemned the action last week and said part of the BP -operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline was now in territory it regards as occupied by Russia. The 830-km (520-mile) pipeline runs from Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea terminal of Supsa. It can transport up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

Russia did not comment on Georgia’s statements.

A former Soviet republic, Georgia is strategically important to Europe because its pipelines bring in Caspian gas and oil. The country of 3.7 million has no diplomatic relations with Russia but says a foreign policy goal is not to antagonise Moscow. Nevertheless, it is seeking membership of NATO and the European Union.

Joint military drills with five NATO members called “Agile Spirit 2015” are currently underway in Georgia. Georgian soldiers along with U.S. marines and platoon-size units from Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are taking part in the exercises at the Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi. (Editing by)

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