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Russia Calls Georgia A Threat To Stability In South Caucasus

Georgia -- Map with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, updated 2008
MOSCOW -- Russia's Foreign Ministry has called Georgia a threat to stability in the South Caucasus, just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit Tbilisi.

The Russian Foreign Ministry's statement listed occasions when it said Georgian forces had stirred trouble with the two breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"The actions of Tbilisi present a real threat to peace and security in the South Caucasus and put the region on the edge of a new armed conflict with unpredictable consequences," the ministry said.

The United States and Russia are competing for influence in the South Caucasus, which hosts a major pipeline pumping oil from Asia to Europe and borders both Turkey and Iran.

Former Soviet Georgia is a staunch supporter of the United States and has sent soldiers to aid the U.S.-led war in Iraq and aims to join NATO, a move which angers Russia.

Russia supports the rebel regions and its soldiers patrol the de facto borders under cease-fire agreements after South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in wars in the post-Soviet 1990s.

This year, scuffles and standoffs between Georgian forces and Russian and rebel forces have escalated, worrying the West.

"All this proves the Georgian leadership has intentionally increased tensions in relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia," the statement said after noting what it said were Georgian forces' aggression.

Last week, a bomb killed four people in a cafe in Abkhazia, and on July 8 South Ossetian officials released four Georgian policemen after Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili threatened to launch a special operation to release them.

Russia on July 8 tabled a draft resolution at the United Nations which called on Georgia to defuse tensions in the breakaway regions. The United States has said that Russian action in the region has stirred tension.