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    Russia to protect Abkhazia-bound ships in Black Sea

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    Russian coastguard boats will escort cargo vessels in Abkhazia's territorial waters and the Black Sea Fleet will protect Abkhazia-bound ships in neutral waters, a Russian security source said on Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, October 6 (RIA Novosti) - Russian coastguard boats will escort cargo vessels in Abkhazia's territorial waters and the Black Sea Fleet will protect Abkhazia-bound ships in neutral waters, a Russian security source said on Tuesday.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Russia could monitor and escort ships in neutral waters heading to Abkhazia to protect them from possible Georgian provocations.

    "Russian coastguards' zone of responsibility includes Abkhazia territorial waters... However, it is the Black Sea Fleet's task to ensure the security of shipping in neutral waters around the republic," the source said.

    Georgia considers Abkhazia and its waters part of Georgian territory, and has declared any unauthorized maritime shipments of goods to be illegal. Georgia has seized a number of cargo vessels heading to Abkhazia.

    Under mutual assistance treaties signed last November following Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, Moscow pledged to help both republics protect their borders, and the signatories granted each other the right to set up military bases in their respective territories.

    Russia recognized the republics shortly after a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008 that began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.

    Abkhazia vowed in early September to use force to prevent Georgian "acts of piracy," and Russia started the deployment of its patrol boats off the Abkhaz coast.

    The first coast guard ship, the Novorossiisk patrol boat arrived in Abkhazia on September 20. It is part of a Russian coast guard contingent that will be based at Ochamchira. The division is expected to have up to 10 Sobol [Sable] class and Mangust [Mongoose] class patrol boats.

    A senior Russian coast guard official has said Russia will detain any vessel that violates Abkhazia's maritime border. Georgia has pledged to use political, diplomatic and other means to resist any such attempts.

    Russia has earlier pledged to allocate 15-16 billion rubles (over $465 million) in 2010 to boost security along Abkhazian borders and said the deployment of its borderguards in the republic would be completed by November 2009.

     

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