ASTANA (Reuters) -- Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state with good ties to Russia and Georgia, believes it can help resolve the future of the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Prime Minister Karim Masimov has told Reuters.
Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in August over South Ossetia, a pro-Moscow region which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92 and declared independence.
Talks in Geneva between the two sides about South Ossetia have made little progress. Some "tough" discussions were held there about security issues on November 19, Interfax news agency quoted a Russian diplomat as saying.
Noting that oil- and gas-rich Kazakhstan would take the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Masimov, in an interview, said, "I strongly believe the OSCE can play a bigger role in resolving the issue of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Kazakhstan as future chairman can play a bigger role and my president [Nursultan Nazarbaev] has already expressed interest."
Kazakhstan's OSCE role was delayed by a year after human rights groups criticized a lack of democracy in the country, ruled by Nazarbaev since the late Soviet period.
No Plans To Recognize
But despite Kazakhstan's good relations with Moscow, Masimov made clear that his country did not plan to recognize the two Georgian rebel regions' declaration of independence.
So far, only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states; the United States and the European Union have condemned the move while Moscow's former Soviet vassals have remained mostly silent.
"According to the decision of my president, we did not recognize the independence of Kosovo and we did not recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Masimov said. "The treatment should be equal in all cases like that, not only in the region, but worldwide."
As one of the biggest foreign investors in Georgia, Kazakhstan wanted the situation to be resolved peacefully as soon as possible, he added.
Masimov said Kazakhstan, located at a strategic crossroads of Asia and Europe, wanted to maintain its policy of staying friends with all major powers. He listed the United States, Russia, China, and the Middle East as strategic partners.
"We prefer not to say we are friendly with someone against someone else," he said
Nazarbaev had already held a phone conversation with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and the call had given Kazakhstan confidence that its good relations with Washington would endure, the premier added.