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US Calls Russian Action on Georgia 'Political Mischief'

The United States Wednesday reaffirmed support for Georgia's territorial integrity after Russia said it was setting up legal ties with two Georgian separatist regions. A State Department official called the Russian action on Abkhazia and South Ossetia "political mischief." VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say they're trying to clarify just what the Russian announcement on the two breakaway Georgian areas really means. But in the meantime, the State Department is underscoring U.S. political support for Georgian sovereignty.

The Russian foreign ministry said Wednesday President Vladimir Putin has instructed the ministry to recognize the legality of some documents issued by authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to cooperate with them on trade and other matters.

The Russian ministry said the action was to protect the interests of people living in the areas including Russian citizens, and that it does not mean Moscow is choosing confrontation with Georgia.

The Georgian government, nonetheless, met in emergency session and called the Russian action part of a defacto annexation process violating international law.

The Bush administration, which has forged close ties with the government of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, had a measured response.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack declined to directly characterize the Russian action but stressed U.S. backing for the Tbilisi government.

'We're still examining what it is that they [Russia] are in effect proposing to do. But in the meantime, I will reiterate our unshakable support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia," he said.

A senior diplomat here, speaking on terms of anonymity, described the Russian action as "political mischief" and said he believed Moscow is "trying to stir things up."

South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which border Russia and have large ethnic-Russia populations, have resisted control from Tbilisi since Georgia - a former Soviet republic - became independent.

Moscow announced the actions on the separatist areas two weeks after NATO angered Moscow at its Bucharest summit by offering Georgia a plan for eventual membership.

Russia also opposed the recognition by the United States and key allies of Kosovo independence in February, and warned that it might ignite separatist sentiment in places like the two Georgian regions.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Wednesday the Russian steps undermine Georgian sovereignty and urged Moscow to reverse them.

European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana spoke by telephone with Georgian President Saakashvili and expressed his concern.