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Russia Signs Treaty To Defend Georgia Separatists

Medvedev (center) with Bagapsh (left) and Kokoity
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed treaties with Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia that committed Moscow to defend the breakaway regions from any Georgian attack.

The treaties formalize military, diplomatic, and economic cooperation between Moscow and the separatist regions, which Russia recognized as independent states after its brief war with Georgia last month.

In Tbilisi, a senior Georgian diplomat said the treaties were a "masquerade" and that Russia had annexed sovereign Georgian territory.

Russia drew international condemnation after it sent its troops into Georgia last month and then recognized the regions, but it said it had a moral duty to act to defend them from what it called a genocide by Georgia's military in South Ossetia.

"The documents we have signed envisage that our countries will jointly undertake the necessary measures for counteracting threats to peace...and opposing acts of aggression," Medvedev said after a lavish signing ceremony in the Kremlin.

"We will show each other all necessary support, including military support," Medvedev said.

"A repeat of the Georgian aggression...would lead to a catastrophe on a regional scale, so no one should be in doubt that we will not allow new military adventures."

Western states have angered Russia by backing Georgia over the conflict. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO of Cold-War thinking after the alliance held high-level talks in Tbilisi this week.

"We cannot view steps to intensify relations between the alliance and Georgia any other way than as encouragement for new adventures," the ministry said in a statement. Georgia is seeking to join NATO, an ambition Russia opposes.

Medvedev signed the treaties with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh. Afterwards, they shook hands and toasted each other with champagne.

The two separatist leaders were given all the trappings accorded to sovereign heads of state, with their regions' flags displayed in the Kremlin and an announcer introducing them to guests in their national languages.

Only Nicaragua has followed Moscow's lead and recognized the enclaves as independent, despite a diplomatic drive by Russia to persuade its allies to grant them recognition.

"As we were saying before, this is an unconcealed annexation of these territories by Russia. The rest is just a masquerade," Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria told Reuters when asked to comment on the treaties.

"It's a violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.

Moscow plans to base about 7,600 troops in the two regions, and the separatists already receive substantial economic support from the Russian government.

The treaties underlined the closeness of the relationship. The documents stated that Russia will take measures to support the functioning of the regions' financial and banking systems since the Russian rouble is their main currency.