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Russian Lawmakers Call For Recognition Of Georgia's Breakaway Regions

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity (left) and Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh applaud the vote in the Federation Council.
Lawmakers in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, have unanimously adopted a resolution calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Just hours earlier, the same resolution sailed through the upper house, the Federation Council.

Until now, the Kremlin has supported Georgia's two separatist regions financially and politically, but has stopped short of officially recognizing their sovereignty.

Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov said it is now time for Russia to take that step.

"The peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have every right to gain independence," Mironov said. "And one of the main legal principles for recognizing independence is the fundamental principle of international law -- the right of people to self-determination."

The vote follows a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia on August 7, which triggered a massive counterattack from Russia. The conflict has killed hundreds of people and driven thousands more from their homes.

The State Duma also approved a second resolution calling on parliaments worldwide to back independence for Georgia's breakaway provinces.

The document states that Abkhazia and South Ossetia deserve international recognition no less than Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic-Albanian province that declared independence from Serbia in February with the backing of the West.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity reiterated this satnce at the Federation Council session, saying: "We have more political-legal grounds than Kosovo does to have our independence recognized. When I say 'we,' I mean both South Ossetia and Abkhazia."

Russian officials have on many occasions hinted that the Western recognition of Kosovo has created a precedent paving the way for the formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But Andrei Zagorsky, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service this is not a valid argument.

"The precedent they most like to cite is Kosovo, although international law is not based on precedents," Zagorsky says.

"There are many examples in history of both successful resolutions of secession crisis, when an internal solution was found within the state, and situations when this didn't work out. There exists no strict regulation in international law," he adds. "Political factors -- recognition and the reaction of countries that don't accept this recognition -- play a determining role."

Also in attendance, Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh said, "Neither Abkhazia -- and I will allow myself to speak for South Ossetia too -- nor South Ossetia will ever agree to live in one state with Georgia, and we ask you to cross this barrier which has been so hard to cross for many years and to recognize our republics as independent states."

Neither resolution, however, is legally binding, and President Medvedev will have the last word on the matter.

But political analysts agree that the resolutions, even if left unanswered, give the Kremlin leader a valuable bargaining chip as he negotiates the status of Russian forces in Georgia.

Western countries, led by the United States, Georgia's main ally, have criticized Russia for failing to pull back its troops from central and western Georgia.

The United States delivered 55 tons of aid to Georgia on August 24, in a gesture of support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who says the conflict with Russia has caused around $2 billion in damage to his country.

France, which brokered a cease-fire in the conflict as EU president, has called a meeting of European leaders on September 1 to discuss the conflict and the bloc's future relations with Russia.

Moscow insists that its remaining forces near the Black Sea port of Poti and in areas outside the boundaries of the breakaway regions are peacekeepers needed to avert further violence.

with agency reporting

Crisis In Georgia

Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.

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