EU's Ashton welcomes Georgian outreach to breakaway zones
The European Union's diplomatic director, Catherine Ashton, on Thursday welcomed Georgia's plan for rapprochement with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, calling it a "significant step forward."
Georgia attacked the two Russian-backed regions in August 2008. Russia responded by invading Georgia, recognizing the breakaways as independent states and stationing troops there, DPA reported.
On Saturday, the Georgian government approved a seven-point strategy for "engagement through cooperation" in an attempt to woo the breakaways back under its control.
Ashton sees that as "a significant step forward towards a policy of engagement" and holds that "reaching out to the populations is a prerequisite for finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict," her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said in a statement.
The plan foresees ice-breaking moves including "status-neutral" communications between Tbilisi and the breakaway zones, providing their citizens with travel documents and creating an international fund for development and reconciliation projects.
"The EU is ready to contribute to these efforts in line with its non-recognition and engagement policy and fully supports the approach based on confidence-building and facilitation of people-to-people contacts as well as freedom of movement," Kocijancic said.
After the war, the EU levelled some criticism at Georgia, the most pro-Western state in the Caucasus, for its attack on the breakaway regions, but was far more vocal in condemning what it saw as Russia's "over-reaction" and its recognition of the rebel regions.
No EU member state has recognized their independence.
"The EU reiterates its firm support for the security and stability of Georgia, based on full respect for the principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity recognized by international law," Kocijancic said.
Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru have recognized the breakaways - Nauru reportedly in return for a 50-million-dollar handout.