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EU raps Russia over Lavrov trip to Abkhazia, S. Ossetia

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday criticised Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia as incompatible with Georgia’s sovereignty.

“The European Union does not consider these visits compatible with the principle of territorial integrity,” Ashton said in a statement.

“The EU reiterates its support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and underlines the importance of a peaceful conflict resolution in full respect of the territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.”

Lavrov on April 25-26 visited the breakaway leaders in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi respectively.

In both regions he oversaw the coming into force of an agreement on visa-free travel for Russians to the regions and vice versa, the Russian foreign ministry said in Moscow.

Accords were also inked in South Ossetia for cooperation in transport and aviation safety and in Abkhazia on the establishment of cultural centres, it added.

Georgia and some of its leading Western allies describe Abkhazia as “occupied” by Russian forces, which are stationed there and patrol the disputed borderline.

Tbilisi insists that Abkhazia is an integral part of its territory but Moscow has recognised it and South Ossetia as independent states — a move followed by Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru.

Abkhaz separatists waged a civil war with Georgian forces in the 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union that killed several thousand people and left some 250,000, mostly ethnic Georgians, as refugees.