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West awaits Medvedev word on Georgia rebel areas

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia and its Western allies waited on Tuesday to hear if Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would recognise Georgia’s separatist regions as independent, a move Washington has warned would be unacceptable.

In a sign of the fragility of the ceasefire declared after Russian troops marched into the pro-Western state, Georgian and separatist forces were in a tense standoff over a disputed village on the fringes of breakaway South Ossetia.

The two houses of Russia’s parliament adopted non-binding resolutions on Monday urging Medvedev to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and the second Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia.

But the Kremlin leader issued no response to the unanimous votes in parliament.

U.S. President George W. Bush said he was deeply concerned by the parliamentary votes. He urged Russia’s leaders not to recognize the regions, which broke with Tbilisi after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as independent.

Senior officials of the world’s leading industrial nations, the Group of Seven, also expressed alarm at the move.

Georgia and Russia fought a brief war over South Ossetia earlier this month after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to retake the province by force. Russia struck back with a massive Russian counter-attack by land, sea and air.

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Russia has pulled out the bulk of its forces, but it has alarmed the West by stationing some troops deep inside Georgia’s heartland on what it has called a peacekeeping mission.

The West says the troops give Moscow a stranglehold over vital ports and transport links and are a breach of a ceasefire deal. Georgia hosts a Western-backed oil pipeline which supplies about one percent of the world’s crude.


The United States is Tbilisi’s staunchest big-power ally and on Tuesday U.S. navy vessels were bound for Georgia bringing relief supplies -- a deployment that has irked Moscow.

Russia media reported that the ‘Moskva’ missile cruiser, which earlier this month took part in the attack on Georgia, put into the Black Sea again for what the navy described as a routine training exercise.

The White House announced that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney would visit Georgia early next month as part of a European trip. Cheney has in the past been an outspoken Kremlin critic, accusing Russia of blackmailing its neighbours.

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Georgian and South Ossetia forces were facing off late on Monday in the village of Mosabruni on the edge of the breakaway region, though there was no fighting.

Georgian police said the village was not part of separatist-controlled territory, but the separatists accused Tbilisi of grabbing the village unlawfully.

The atmosphere was “very tense”, Kakha Lomaia, Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, told Reuters.

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Russian lawmakers said Medvedev should recognise the two regions because they had a stronger claim to independence than Kosovo from Serbia and could no longer live within a state that sent in soldiers to try to restore its control.

Under Russian law, it is the prerogative of the president and not parliament to recognise foreign states.

Diplomats say the Kremlin may stop short of granting recognition, in part because it fears encouraging separatist sentiment in its own restive regions.

But they say Medvedev could instead use the threat of recognition as a bargaining chip.

The Russian troop pullback has in places revealed a trail of destruction where Russian forces have been destroying military infrastructure. They say that was necessary to prevent Tbilisi from committing new acts of aggression.

A Reuters reporter at the Senaki military base near the Black Sea coast, which was occupied by Russian troops, saw deep craters in the runway, ransacked buildings and the blackened wrecks of T-72 tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

The base, the country’s first built to NATO standards, was only completed a few months ago and was intended as the showpiece of Georgia’s bid to join the alliance.

Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton