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Russia Backs EU, Not U.S., Role In Georgia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Moscow welcomes the work of EU monitors in Georgia, deployed in the Caucasus state a year ago after the Russian invasion, but is opposed to the United States having a role, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on August 5.

In a brief war last August, Russia crushed Georgia's attempt to retake its rebel province of South Ossetia. Moscow has recognised the independence of South Ossetia and another rebel region of Abkhazia, taking them under its security umbrella.

Under a peace deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the European Union has sent 240 unarmed monitors to Georgia to oversee a fragile ceasefire. Georgia now wants the United States to join the monitoring.

"The presence of EU monitors on Georgian territories bordering South Ossetia and Abkhazia is an important stabilizing factor and we support such a presence," Lavrov told state-run television channel Vesti-24.

No one, except for Russia and Nicaragua, has so far recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Moscow, arguing that their separate status from Tbilisi must be recognised, has blocked access for monitors to both regions.

The monitors in turn complain that the lack of access restricts their ability to verify mutual accusations of blame for sporadic attacks on both sides of the de facto borders.

Russia sees the monitors as a force to prevent any concentration of Georgian forces in areas bordering South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia, keen to get Western support in its stand-off with Russia, asked the United States last month to join the EU monitoring mission -- although the EU itself has not made any such request to Washington.

Lavrov said the Georgian request was part of a plan to drag the United States into a confrontation.

"The idea is absolutely clear and we honestly told this to our U.S. colleagues," Lavrov said. "This is all about dragging Americans into Georgia and pitching them against the Russian military."

"After that, the Georgian masters of provocation... will try doing their traditional job," he added. "The risks of this are clear, Europe and the United States understand them."

Russia and the United States are now trying to "reset" their thorny relationship, which was worsened by the Georgia war in which Washington backed Tbilisi.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Moscow in July, has said Washington will never recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Tbilisi last month to reaffirm support for Georgia.