Tbilisi Lobbies Minsk on Recognition


TBILISI, Georgia - Georgia urged Belarus on Wednesday not to follow Russia in recognizing the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Belarus dispatched lawmakers to Georgia and its rebel territories this week to consider the issue, with Minsk torn between a traditional loyalty to Moscow and a bid to improve relations with the European Union, which supports Georgia.

Russia recognized the regions in August 2008 after crushing an assault by Georgia on South Ossetia in a five-day war. Only the leaders of Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed suit.

"The objective of the Georgian side is to demonstrate that it's not about choosing between Georgia and Russia, it's about choosing between justice and injustice, between international law and unlawfulness, between peace and violence," Georgian parliament speaker David Bakradze said after meeting members of the delegation.

"I hope that eventually, despite all the awkwardness and the delicacy of the political situation that [Belarus] is in : at the end of the day their decision will be based first of all on the principles of international law."

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he will not be strong-armed by Moscow into a decision. Close military and economic ties between the countries have become strained this year by Lukashenko's moves to improve relations with the West.

Belarussian lawmaker Sergei Maskovich was tight-lipped when pressed by reporters in Tbilisi on whether Minsk would recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"We are simply investigating this issue," he said.

"NATO countries voiced concern Wednesday at Russian and Belarusian exercises held near the Polish border in September, saying they were at odds with improved relations with Moscow.

Ambassadors from the 28 NATO states meeting in Brussels expressed concerns about the large scale of the exercises and a scenario that envisioned an attack from the West, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

"There was the general sense that the political message of the exercise was incongruous with the general improvement in political relations and practical cooperation which is under way between NATO and Russia," Appathurai said.

He said there was also concern that NATO observers had not been invited to view the exercises.


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