Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has officially recognised the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent, during a visit to Russia. Georgia has dismissed the declaration as irrelevant.
The shock decision -- which Chavez said was effective immediately -- was a triumph for Russia, which has struggled to convince other countries to follow its lead in granting diplomatic recogition to the two territories.
"Venezuela from today is joining in the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Chavez said during a visit to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's residence outside Moscow.
"We soon will begin actions to establish diplomatic relations with these countries."
Medvedev praised Chavez's move. "Thank you, Hugo. Russia has always supported a country's sovereign right to recognize or not recognize a state's independence.
"But of course we are not indifferent to the fate of these two states. We're very grateful," Medvedev said, as the two leaders sat by a fireplace for a public appearance before the start of closed-door negotiations.
Georgia, which has a pro-Western government that considers the two regions to be under Russian occupation, dismissed Chavez's move as irrelevant.
"I do not think it will have any important political consequences," Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Temur Yakobashvili told AFP.
"When such marginal and outcast politicians as Chavez and (Nicaraguan leader Daniel) Ortega take such decisions it shows that we are dealing with a political anomaly," he said.
Until Thursday only Nicaragua had joined Moscow in recognising the regions as independent. Like Venezuela, Nicaragua has a left-wing government friendly to Russia.
Russia recognised the two rebel regions as independent in the wake of its war last year with Georgia, but most countries around the world condemned the move and still consider them part of Georgian territory.
Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists broke free of Georgian control in the early 1990s and enjoyed tacit support from Moscow for years, even though Russia did not formally recognise their independence until August 2008.
The recognition by Russia came after Moscow and Tbilisi fought a five-day war over South Ossetia, which plunged relations between Russia and the West to their worst low since the Cold War.
Thousands of Russian troops and border guards are now stationed in the two regions, which Moscow says are necessary to protect their independence.
Abkhazia's leader Sergei Bagapsh applauded Chavez's decision and expressed hope that the "closest political and economic relations" would develop between his micro-state and Caracas.
He said an Abkhaz delegation was currently in Latin America and would visit Venezuela, the Interfax news agency reported.
Chavez, a firebrand leftist who has frequently criticised the United States, is expected to reach an energy deal with Moscow and discuss a possible Russian loan to Venezuela during his visit.
Media reports have suggested that Venezuela could also sign an array of major contracts to purchase Russian arms during Chavez's visit.
The Kommersant daily newspaper reported Thursday that Russia would seek to find more supporters for its stance on Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Latin America.
"After the recognition by Nicaragua, the most promising region from this perspective is Latin America," a Russian foreign ministry source told Kommersant.
Russia decided to recognise the rebel regions after many Western countries, including the United States, angered Moscow by recognising the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, a longtime Russian ally, earlier in 2008.
Date created : 2009-09-10