July 24, 2018 / 6:57 AM / in 5 months

Leader of breakaway South Ossetia meets Assad in Syria

FILE PHOTO: President of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region Anatoly Bibilov attends a news briefing after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Sekretarev/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The leader of South Ossetia, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Georgia, met Moscow’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Monday, Syrian state media reported.

South Ossetia’s President Anatoly Bibilov is on a three-day visit to Syria two months after Damascus recognized his country’s independence, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in wars in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia and Russia fought a short war over the regions in August 2008 and Moscow, whose forces triumphed, recognized both as independent countries.

Syria in May joined Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru in also recognizing them. Georgia, backed by the United States and European Union, said the Russian operation was a naked land grab.

Assad owes much of his success against rebels in the country’s long-running war to Russian military support since 2015 and has developed close political and economic ties with Moscow.

His government’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia prompted condemnation by the U.S. State Department. Washington helped arm and train some rebel groups during the Syrian conflict and has called for Assad’s ouster.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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