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Medvedev Backs South Ossestia During Trip

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on July 13 said Moscow would continue to back the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, which Russia recognized as independent after a brief war last year.

"I want to express my gratitude for inviting me to visit this new country...which appeared as a result of difficult, dramatic events," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Medvedev as saying to regional leader Eduard Kokoity.

"There is a need to support and cooperate in the defence sphere," Medvedev said.

Medvedev made the comment during his first trip after Russian troops repelled a Georgian attempt to retake the rebel region last August.

"I think that this first short visit by a Russian president will create a foundation for such contacts, for friendly relations."

A sliver of land with an official population of 70,000, South Ossetia first broke from central Georgian rule in a war in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Russia in August became the first country to recognize its independence and only Nicaragua has followed suit. Georgia's Western allies, including the United States, say Russia's recognition violates Georgia's territorial integrity.

Russia has poured large amounts of money into South Ossetia and says it will open a military base there. But thousands are still homeless after the war and thousands more unemployed.

"We have a whole series of projects to revive the economy and the republic's social sphere," RIA quoted Medvedev as saying.

The Kremlin declined to comment on the visit, but a statement on its website said Medvedev was in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali to meet with Kokoity.