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    Russia expects Belarus to recognize S.Ossetia, Abkhazia

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    Russia counts on Belarus to follow its lead and recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries, Moscow's envoy to Minsk said on Wednesday.

    MINSK, August 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia counts on Belarus to follow its lead and recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries, Moscow's envoy to Minsk said on Wednesday.

    "Belarus can recognize or not recognize the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - this is the sovereign right of Belarus," Ambassador Alexander Surikov told reporters. "But to be honest, we are counting on the Belarusian side to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

    He said Russia considers Belarus as one of its closest allies.

    Russia officially recognized the two republics as independent states on Tuesday, a move that has been strongly condemned by most Western countries. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said recognition was necessary to protect the republics from Georgian acts of aggression, following the August 8 military offensive in South Ossetia.

    Surikov said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko recently met with the leaders of the two republics in southern Russia.

    "A meeting of the Belarusian president with [South Ossetia's Eduard] Kokoity and [Abkhazia's Sergei] Bagapsh took place in Sochi. Evidently, the Belarusian president gave them his support. But then the declaration of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence was still a long way off," the diplomat said.

    He said it was "difficult to say whether the Belarusian and Russian sides held consultations on whether or not Belarus would recognize South Ossetia's independence."

    Belarus was slow to show support for Russia's "peace enforcement" operation that came in response to Georgia's attack on South Ossetia. On August 12, Surikov called for support from the Belarusian leadership, saying Moscow was "perplexed by the modest silence of the Belarusian side."

    Stronger support quickly followed, with official declarations of sympathy for South Ossetians and offers of aid. A week after the Russian ambassador's comments, Lukashenko traveled to Sochi for a meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, and declared that the Russian president had displayed "wisdom" during the Georgian aggression.

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