March 20, 2008 / 10:11 PM / 12 years ago

Russian parliament to warn Georgia on NATO entry

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s parliament will vote on Friday on a resolution calling for the Kremlin to consider recognising Georgia’s breakaway regions if the pro-Western former Soviet state joins NATO.

The resolution, a draft of which was obtained by Reuters on Thursday, is not binding but is likely to stoke Western fears that Russia is inching towards recognizing the Moscow-backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Russia is firmly opposed to Georgia joining NATO and some analysts and diplomats say Moscow is using the threat of recognition to deter the alliance from setting Tbilisi on the path to membership at its summit in Bucharest on April 2-4.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia are internationally recognized as part of Georgia. They have run their own affairs since separatist wars in the 1990s and stepped up their campaign for recognition after Kosovo’s independence earlier this year.

The resolution said that if Georgia joins NATO, Russia’s government should “consider the possibility of speeding up the objective process of Abkhazia and South Ossetia acquiring sovereignty, up to recognition of their independence”.

The document was drafted by pro-Kremlin lawmakers in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. Kremlin loyalists have a large majority in the chamber. Speaker Boris Gryzlov said lawmakers would vote on the resolution on Friday.

The separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia say their regions are ethnically distinct from Georgia.

KOSOVO PRECEDENT

Georgia’s pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili has said the two regions must remain part of Georgia, a stance backed by his allies in the United States and European Union.

But some Russian officials have said Kosovo’s independence sets a precedent in international law making it harder to deny recognition to separatist states in the former Soviet Union.

Saakashvili has applied to NATO to grant his country a Membership Action Plan, the first step on the road to joining the alliance.

Moscow says its security will be threatened if Georgia, viewed by Russia as part of its traditional sphere of influence, joins NATO, bringing the alliance to Russia’s southern border.

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying in Tel Aviv on Thursday that NATO’s growth reflected “a bloc expansion logic of the Cold War era”.

U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Moscow earlier this week. “During the talks in Moscow, the Americans were given a clear-cut answer that the implementation of such plans would have the most grave consequences for our relations,” Lavrov said.

Parliament’s draft 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.

Some observers say Russia will stop short of recognizing the breakaway regions. They say the Kremlin is wary that recognition could stir up separatist movements inside its own borders, especially in the restive Chechnya region.

Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Roche

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