May 30, 2018 / 11:53 AM / 4 months ago

U.S. condemns Syria's ties with Georgian breakaway regions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday condemned Syria’s decision to recognise two breakaway regions in Georgia and create diplomatic ties, saying it fully backed Georgia’s independence and reiterating its call for Russia to withdraw from the area.

“The United States strongly condemns the Syrian regime’s intention to establish diplomatic relations with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“These regions are part of Georgia. The United States’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unwavering,” the statement said.

The dispute is the latest strain in U.S.-Russia relations, particularly over Syria. Moscow has provided military backing for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria’s seven-year civil war that has killed half a million people and driven more than half the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

On Tuesday, Georgia said it would sever diplomatic relations with Syria after Damascus moved to recognise the two regions as independent states.

Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru previously recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Following that fight in the early 1990s, Georgia and Russia fought a war over the regions in August 2008.

The United States and European Union have backed Georgia in calling the Russian operation a naked land grab.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged deeper security and economic support for Georgia.

He also called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia under the ceasefire agreement that followed the 2008 war. The department echoed that request on Wednesday.

“We fully support Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, and call on all states to ... do the same,” Nauert said.

Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean region in eastern Ukraine has also led to a war there between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 10,000 people in three years.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Susan Thomas

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