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The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on Friday it was seriously concerned
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on Friday it was seriously concerned over Russia's decision to lift sanctions against Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

"This step is nothing but a blunt attempt to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country [Georgia], and to encourage separatism," the ministry said in a statement. "It is a dangerous provocation, aimed at escalating tensions in the conflict zone."

Russia lifted on Thursday trade, economic, financial and transport sanctions against Abkhazia, and urged other CIS countries to follow suit. The CIS is an alliance of former Soviet republics.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that "due to a change of circumstances, the Russian Federation no longer considered itself bound" by the resolution on the Abkhazia-Georgia conflict that was adopted by the CIS Heads of State Council on January 19, 1996.

It said sanctions had been imposed amid a confrontation between Georgia and Abkhazia that continued after a 1992-93 conflict between the two sides, and were designed to compel Abkhazia to adopt a more flexible position in negotiations, primarily on the return of refugees and other displaced persons.

"Today the situation has changed drastically. The majority of ethnic Georgian refugees have returned to Abkhazia's Galsky district," the ministry said.

However, Tbilisi insisted that many refugees had not been able to return home and called Russia's explanation "immoral."

"This explanation comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of refugees are still being prevented from returning to their homes while their property [in Abkhazia] is being sold to citizens of the Russian Federation," Georgia's Foreign Ministry said.

Georgia is also concerned that Russia may resume supplies of weaponry and military equipment to Abkhazia, a move which could destabilize the situation in the conflict zone.

"In these circumstances, Georgia declares its right to take appropriate measures to protect its interests in line with the Constitution and international law," the Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry summoned on Friday Russia's ambassador to Tbilisi, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, to hand him a note of protest over Russia's announcement.

Meanwhile, Abkhazia, an unrecognized republic with a population around 200,000, has plans to reiterate its calls for recognition of its de facto independence by Russia and major international organizations later this week.

Shortly after Kosovo declared independence on February 17, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both involved in bloody conflicts after proclaiming independence from Georgia in 1991, said the recognition of Kosovo should now be taken into account when considering their claims for sovereignty.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of Kosovo will set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

A number of countries, including the U.S., Australia and major European powers, have so far recognized Kosovo's sovereignty.

The Russian parliament said in a statement in late February that Kosovo's independence gives Russia the right to forge new relationships with self-proclaimed states.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is to discuss the issue of Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on March 13.

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