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Russia Backs Georgia Separatist Regions On Status

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Sergei Bagapsh (center) and Eduard Kokoity in Moscow.

MOSCOW -- Russia supports the position of Georgia's separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in talks on their future status, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.

Eduard Kokoity and Sergei Bagapsh, self-styled presidents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, flew to Moscow on August 14 on an unannounced visit to seek Kremlin support as diplomatic efforts proceeded to end the weekold conflict.

Medvedev, speaking after the two leaders signed a six-point plan brokered this week by France to end hostilities, said Moscow fully supported their position.

"Please be aware that Russia's position is unchanged. We will support any decisions taken by the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia...and not only do we support [them] but we will guarantee them both in the Caucasus and throughout the world," Medvedev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed this week to a peace plan proposed by their French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy to end fighting in South Ossetia.

Saakashvili later removed references to discussions on the future status of the two breakaway regions -- the sixth point. Russia said it had no objections.

"You know when we talk about the sixth point -- the point about the status -- I want you to know and to tell the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that Russia's position is unchanged," Medvedev said. "Some time ago the president of France and I agreed on the the principles setting out a settlement of the matter.... These principles form the basis that we can use to continue our work."

Medvedev said a legally binding agreement on the nonuse of force in the conflict zone should be signed by all parties under guarantees from Russia, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said separately that the conflict had put paid to Georgian efforts to bring the rebel regions back into its fold.

"We have a de facto situation in which people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia simply do not want to live within the same state with a man who sent troops against them," he told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station.