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Georgia Breaks Diplomatic Ties With Russia

Georgia is breaking off diplomatic relations with Russia over the Kremlin's recognition of two Georgian rebel regions as independent states. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from Tbilisi the last two Georgian diplomats in Moscow will be returning home.

A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Friday that her office had been instructed to halt diplomatic ties with Russia immediately. The two officers working at the Georgian Embassy in Moscow have been told to leave Saturday.

The move came less than 24 hours after Georgia's parliament voted 106 to zero in favor of breaking relations.

Senior ruling party member of parliament David Darchiashvili says the official break in ties was largely symbolic, since the Georgian ambassador to Moscow had been recalled in July, and the two countries have had virtually no diplomatic contact for months.

"It already happened," he said. "We simply just ratified the facts that already exist on the ground. There are no sort of formal full-fledged diplomatic relations since probably almost Spring of this year, after Bucharest summit when Putin started openly, blatantly neglecting Georgian territorial integrity, establishment of diplomatic relations with breakaway regions. That already de facto interrupted our diplomatic relations."

Darchiashvili told VOA the decision to break ties was taken despite strong reservations by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"Saakashvili will not be interested in a total break of relations with Russia, which is our neighbor and will be our neighbor for indefinite future. It is unreasonable and not pragmatic. But right now it is not Saakashvili's choice," he said. "When Russia invades, occupies, tries to annex pieces of the sovereign country every self respectful politician would vote for interruption of diplomatic relations."

Moscow's recognition of the two separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, came after a brief military confrontation earlier this month in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. The clash prompted Russia to send hundreds of tanks deep into Georgian territory. Russia still maintains checkpoints at several strategic locations in Georgia.

Russia accused Georgia of striking first, accusing President Saakashvili of 'blind aggression', and saying the move deprived him of the moral authority to defend Georgia's territorial integrity.

Russia's Foreign Ministry Friday said that Moscow regretted Tbilisi's decision to cut ties, but a news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying the Russian Embassy in Georgia would also be closing immediately. A call to the embassy Friday afternoon went unanswered.