Russia allies fail to back Moscow on enclaves

MOSCOW Thu Sep 4, 2008 1:12pm BST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A group of Moscow's ex-Soviet allies on Thursday stopped short of following Russia's recognition of two breakaway regions in Georgia.

While their statement criticised Georgia's aggression it made no reference to Russia's recognition last month of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. To date, only Nicaragua has followed Russia's lead.

Russia sent troops deep into the Caucasus state last month to prevent Georgian rebels from being crushed by Tbilisi.

But the defence ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (ODKB) did not follow Russia's lead and recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, leaving Moscow in almost complete international isolation.

"The ministers are deeply concerned about Georgia's military activities in South Ossetia, which led to multiple civilian casualties ... and a major humanitarian catastrophe," they said in a final statement following their meeting in Moscow.

The Russia-led ODKB also includes Belarus, Armenia and the Asian ex-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The West has condemned Russia for the intervention in which its troops took under control both separatist provinces and seized a large chunk of Georgian territory outside them.

Russia says it has withdrawn most of its forces from the conflict zone under a ceasefire deal mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But it has said it will keep a limited number of peacekeepers in "buffer zones" on Georgian territory proper until an effective security mechanism involving international monitors is in place.

"The events around South Ossetia showed the danger of double standards in international relations," the statement said in a clear sign of support for Russian claims of Western bias in assessing the Georgian crisis.

The ministerial meeting of ODKB took place ahead of the group's summit in Moscow on Friday, at which Russia intends to press for full support for its actions in Georgia.

Russia's initial attempt last week to win backing from another friendly alliance -- the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) grouping Russia, China and the four ex-Soviet Asian republics -- failed.

China and most ex-Soviet states, some of whom have separatist problems of their own, declined to back Russia too strongly to avoid irking the West with which they are trying to build ties.

The ODKB statement, which also acknowledged Russia's active role as a security guarantor in the Caucasus, appeared to offer Moscow firmer support than the SCO document.

But it did not contain any sign that the allies planned to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as sought by Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, however, that Moscow was generally happy with the document.

"It lays the stress in the right place and includes all the right remarks, including the unacceptable nature of Georgia's actions against South Ossetia ... the unacceptable nature of double standards," he told a news briefing.

(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Jon Boyle and Giles Elgood)

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