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EU Says Putin's Abkhazia Visit Not Helpful

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union has criticized Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region, saying it was not helpful to international efforts to stabilise the region.

The Swedish EU presidency on August 13 reiterated EU support for Georgia's territorial integrity, including two breakaway regions recognised by Russia as independent, and expressed concern that Putin had visited Abkhazia without Georgia's permission.

"The EU does not consider this visit compatible with the principle of territorial integrity nor helpful for the international efforts to stabilise the region," it said in a statement.

Putin pledged half a billion dollars to defend Abkhazia on August 12 , during a surprise visit that Georgia said was a direct challenge that would escalate tension in the Caucasus, a key route for oil and gas flows from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

Last month, the European Union issued a similar statement in response to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the other Georgian breakaway region, South Ossetia.

After visiting South Ossetia, where the Russian army repelled Georgian forces in a five-day war last August, Medvedev indicated that Russia would again respond militarily if Georgia tried to retake either territory.

Russia recognised the two separatist regions as independent states after Georgia's attempt to retake South Ossetia. Western states consider the regions still part of Georgia.