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Kosovo may influence Russian ties with Georgia breakaway regions-2

Russia could be forced to reconsider its relations with two Georgian breakaway regions if Kosovo declares independence and it is recognized by other states, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
(Adds details, Russian ministry spokesman's quotes in paras 11-15)

MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia could be forced to reconsider its relations with two Georgian breakaway regions if Kosovo declares independence and it is recognized by other states, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

A separatist province in southern Serbia, Kosovo is expected to unilaterally declare its independence on Sunday.

Russia has repeatedly said that granting Kosovo sovereignty could set a precedent and trigger a chain reaction for secessionist regions throughout the world, including in Greece, Spain, Georgia, Moldova and Cyprus. But Western countries supporting Kosovo's independence insist that the case is unique, and that there is no threat of the weakening of international law.

"The declaration of sovereignty by Kosovo and its recognition will doubtlessly be taken into account in [Russia's] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Still, Russia confirms its consistent intention to seek a peaceful settlement for the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts within current formats and counter every attempt to solve the problem by force," the ministry said.

The statement followed a meeting earlier on Friday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity.

The Russian minister discussed the consequences of Kosovo's independence for international law with the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics, which declared independence from Georgia following bloody conflicts in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.

But Moscow repeatedly said Russia will not recognize the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia if Kosovo's independence is recognized. During his final annual news conference as president on Thursday, Vladimir Putin said that if Western countries acknowledge Kosovo's independence, Russia has no plans to seek "non-legal" retaliation.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council and Serbia's long-time ally, maintains that Belgrade and Pristina should continue seeking a compromise, and calls for security and humanitarian issues to be rectified in the province.

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serb forces in 1999.

Serbia's territorial integrity was fixed in UN Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999.

The European Union is expected to approve a decision to deploy a 2,000-strong police and justice mission and a EU civil administration in Kosovo on Saturday night. The new mission, to be reinforced by a NATO contingent, is expected to replace a UN mission deployed in the region since 1999.

However, Russia's Foreign Ministry stated on Friday that only the UN Security Council can take the decision to change the format of the international mission in Kosovo.

"We are convinced that Security Council resolution 1244 is valid. And we draw the attention of our EU partners, who have said a great deal lately about their desire and decision to send an additional mission to the territory, that a change in the international makeup in Kosovo is possible only on the basis of an according decision by the Security Council," the ministry's official spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told the Russian Vesti TV channel.

He also said Moscow hoped the UN would restrain those countries that are pushing the Serb province to declare independence.

"Debate on the Kosovo problem at the UN Security Council should have a restraining influence on those forces that have been pushing Pristina toward independence," Kamynin said.

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