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Russia Plans Base In Georgian Breakaway Region

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia will start building a naval base this year in Georgia's pro-Russian Black Sea separatist region of Abkhazia, the ITAR-TASS news agency has quoted a military official as saying.

Plans for a Russian naval base in Abkhazia, if confirmed, would clearly anger Tbilisi, which demands return of the territory to full Georgian sovereign control. It may also arouse concern in Washington, closely allied to Georgia and wary of a resurgence in Russian naval activity.

The news agency quoted an unnamed official at the Russian Navy's headquarters as saying it wanted to station vessels at the Abkhaz port of Ochamchire. Russia's navy could not immediately be reached for comment.

"The fundamental decision on creating a Black Sea Fleet base in Ochamchire has been taken," TASS quoted the official as saying. "This year we will begin practical work, including dredging, along Abkhazia's coast."

"It will take more than a year to implement all works." The official said the deployment was to protect the breakaway region from Georgian attacks.

During Russia's war with Georgia over Abkhazia last year, a group of Russian Black Sea Fleet warships anchored off Ochamchire. They landed Russian marines and sank a Georgian warship.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is now based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, which belongs to Ukraine -- another former Soviet state which, like Georgia, aspires to NATO membership.

The fleet is due to leave Ukraine for good in 2017, in line with a 20-year lease deal signed in 1997. Russia's diplomats and military have said however they want the fleet to stay at its traditional home base after the expiry of the deadline.

Last year, Moscow angered Western governments by recognizing Abkhazia and another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, as independent states.

Nicaragua is the only other country that has so far recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.