(dpa) - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called an emergency security council meeting Wednesday in response to Russia strengthening diplomatic ties with its separatist regions, Russian news agencies reported.
Moscow announced Wednesday it would establish legal links with the self-governing republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to "render legal assistance ... to the population of the two republics and to the Russian citizens residing there."
Russia's foreign ministry said it was acting on President Vladimir Putin's recommendation and non-binding parliamentary resolution last month calling for recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions.
Russia officially respects Georgia's territorial integrity but has warned that Kosovo's independence could serve as a precedent and has stepped up ties ties, lifting trade restriction against both regions last month.
Georgy Baramidze, the deputy head of Georgia's committee promoting European integration, on Wednesday called Russia's actions "provocation" and said they were amounted to its "annexation of Georgian territory."
He warned Wednesday that Tbilisi would "respond in kind" to any Russian move threatening its sovereignty.
But Moscow downplayed the situation Wednesday. "Our relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not represent a move towards confrontation with Georgia," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russian peacekeepers have been stationed the secessionist regions since 1993 and the two regions have long looked to Moscow for support and a majority of its residents have procured Russian passports in recent years.