MOSCOW (AFP) — A Russian parliamentary commission called Thursday for the establishment diplomatic missions in two breakaway Georgian regions that have cited Kosovo as a precedent for their independence bids.
"We recommend that the Russian government consider opening missions on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Alexei Ostrovsky, head of the commission for relations with ex-Soviet states, told reporters.
"The foreign ministry will decide whether these representative offices should be consulates or otherwise," Ostrovsky said after a parliamentary hearing in which some 300 lawmakers and officials took part.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying the ministry would "look carefully at all the recommendations" but stressed that Russian policy on the separatist regions remained unchanged.
Russia has denied it intends to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgian officials have voiced fears that Moscow is moving towards such recognition in response to the recognition by a number of Western countries of Kosovo's independence, which Russia vehemently opposed.
Russia has offered economic and diplomatic support to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Last week it lifted trade sanctions on Abkhazia in a move immediately denounced by Georgia, the European Union and the United States.
"We must review our foreign policy in response to new challenges such as the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo," Ostrovsky said at the start of the parliamentary hearing on Thursday.
Ostrovsky said Abkhazia and South Ossetia should have "legitimacy" and said that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was "threatening to resolve the conflict with force."
Representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as from Transdnestr, a separatist province of Moldova, made appeals to Russian lawmakers in the hearing to recognise their independence.
The recommendations of the parliamentary committee are due to be submitted to a full session of the parliament next week and are likely to be approved since the hearing was attended by top parliament leaders.
The parliamentary hearing on the rebel provinces, which have operated as de facto independent states since conflicts in the early 1990s, comes in the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17.
Referring to the hearing, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said: "This is in practice the launch of a procedure of recognition. The first step was taken last week with the lifting of sanctions" on Abkhazia.
The head of South Ossetia's separatist parliament, Znaur Gassiyev, told the Vremya Novostei daily that "new elements" had appeared in Russia's relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia after Kosovo's independence.
"It's clear that Russia will not immediately recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But elements of economic cooperation will be strengthened," Gassiyev said in the interview.
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