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Georgia accuses Russia of growing designs on rebel region

Georgia accused Russia on Friday of planning to broker a deal with the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia that would cement Moscow’s dominance over another former Soviet territory.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin inked a “strategic partnership” agreement with Georgia’s rebel Abkhazia region that increased Moscow’s military, economic and diplomatic clout in the pro-Russian enclave.

“South Ossetia is to sign a similar agreement,” President Giorgi Margvelashvili said in Warsaw on Friday, terming it an “unfortunate and unacceptable development”.

The Georgian government had reacted with fury to the agreement with Abkhazia, calling it tantamount to an outright annexation of its territory.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are “occupied territories” that are “integral parts” of Georgia, Margvelashvili reiterated.

The two regions broke away from Georgia after civil wars in the 1990s that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Moscow officially recognised their independence after fighting a five-day war with Georgia in 2008.

Only a handful of other countries recognise the regions’ independence.

Russia had yet to confirm the proposed deal with South Ossetia.

The speaker of South Ossetia’s parliament, Anatoly Bibilov, spoke last month of a pact with Moscow “possibly early next year”, Russia’s state news agency Ria Novosti reported.

Margvelashvili underscored his country’s intention to draw closer to the West by joining both the European Union and NATO, but insisted that the territorial disputes in the north Caucasus were “not to be solved through some kind of NATO intervention”.

“We try to move to some level of trust with Russia,” he said. “We believe in dialogue and negotiations…. War does not reconcile countries.”

Like Ukraine, Georgia broke free from the crumbling USSR in 1991 and has had a tense relationship with Russia ever since.

Russia is locked in a major confrontation with the West over its annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March and its support for separatist fighters in the country’s east.