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The United States urges Russia to abandon its plans to strengthen
The United States urges Russia to abandon its plans to strengthen ties with Georgia's breakaway regions, the State Department said on Friday.

Georgia has reacted furiously to Russia's announcement on Wednesday that it plans to strengthen relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which border on Russia and broke away from Georgia in wars after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tbilisi has accused Moscow of trying to annex the two provinces.

Sean McCormack said Russia must keep to its pledge to respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and must scrap its plans for the Georgian breakaway regions.

Russia plans to give legal status to companies in the two provinces and to cooperate with their governments. Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that outgoing President Vladimir Putin had instructed that measures be drawn up to provide support for the population in the breakaway regions.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to voice concern on the issue.

"We are very concerned at the steps that have been taken and we have made our views known to the Russian government," Rice told reporters after their conversation.

The European Union's presidency holder, Slovenia, also urged Russia "not to implement" its decision to boost cooperation with Georgia's breakaway regions.

"The EU is seriously concerned about recent developments in the Georgian conflict areas, particularly regarding the latest decision of the Russian Federation, announced by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 16 April 2008, to establish official ties with institutions of the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia without the consent of the Government of Georgia," the statement said.

Georgia's foreign minister will arrive in the U.S. on Monday to discuss the situation with U.S. officials. On Thursday, David Bakradze called Russia's plans "an attempt to annex two Georgian regions" and urged the UN Security Council and the OSCE to call emergency meetings on the issue.

The breakaway regions have stepped up their drives for independence since Kosovo's declaration of sovereignty in February. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with Moldova's Transdnestr, have since asked Russia's parliament, the UN and other organizations to recognize their independence.

Georgia is seeking to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has proposed granting Abkhazia broad autonomy and establishing a free economic zone in the separatist province, an offer that has been rejected by Abkhazia.

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