US accuses Russia of challenging Georgia's territorial integrity
(dpa) - Russian President
Vladimir Putin should repeal orders to increase ties to Georgia's separatist
regions, a move the challenges the former Soviet state's territorial integrity,
the State Department said Friday.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday to raise concerns about the plans and spoke with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Thursday.
"We are very concerned at the steps that have been taken and we have made our views known to the Russian government," Rice said before meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
"The United States is absolutely committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia," she added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree Wednesday ordering his government to establish stronger legal ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia amid a rift over NATO plans to eventually invite Georgia and a second former Soviet republic, Ukraine, to join the alliance.
"This step challenges Georgias territorial integrity and would not be in keeping with Russia's status as a 'facilitator' of the peace process," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of seeking to annex the regions that have significant Russian populations.
"Russia has taken one more dangerous step aimed at the de facto annexation of an integral part of Georgia's territory," the foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Russia has maintained peacekeeping troops in the regions since 1993 and the separatists have looked to Moscow for support.
Russia officially endorses Georgia's territorial integrity but has warned that Kosovo's independence from Serbia in February could serve as a precedent. Russia last month lifted trade restrictions against both Georgia regions.
"We believe the withdrawal of sanctions undermines the peace process," McCormack said.
Russia sided with Serbia in strongly opposing Kosovo's independence and refuses to recognize the tiny Balkan state.
US President George W Bush backs adding Georgia and Ukraine to NATO and has urged the alliance to move quickly to admit the two countries.