Thursday, 24 January 2008

Russia downplays Kosovo domino effect

January, 23 - AFP

Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW (AFP) — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia would not necessarily recognise two Moscow-backed rebel regions of neighbouring Georgia if the Serbian province of Kosovo declares independence.

"The Russian leadership has never said that after the recognition of independence in Kosovo we would immediately recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Lavrov told journalists.

Kosovo says it is ready to declare independence even without agreement from Serbia and several Western governments have indicated they are ready to back this.

However Moscow warns that the precedent would then encourage separatism elsewhere, particularly in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The warning has raised fears in Georgia, a Western ally, that Russia is preparing to recognise the rebel regions, which already receive substantial Russian financial and political backing.

Lavrov repeated Moscow's position that Kosovan independence would set a "precedent" for some 200 other separatist territories around the world.

However, he appeared to back-pedal on previous statements by Russian officials that strongly linked Kosovo to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Lavrov said "there is nothing more untruthful" than the idea that Moscow was waiting to use Kosovan independence as a pretext "to start recognising all and sundry. There could be nothing less true."

In 2006, President Vladimir Putin said, "If you consider that one can grant total independence to Kosovo, why must we deprive the Ossetians and Abkhaz of it?"

In Moscow on Wednesday the head of the rebel administration in South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, said he wanted to enter "direct negotiations" with Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, Interfax news agency reported.

The talks should cover demilitarization of the conflict zone, implementation of confidence measures, economic rehabilitation and South Ossetia's political status, Kokoity said at a news conference.

Video: News conference with Russia's Foreign Minister - RussiaToday

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