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Russia to establish ties with Georgian republics

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Moscow has agreed to establish diplomatic relations with the two separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two weeks after recognising their independence.

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Russian officials on Tuesday pledged military bases and 7,600 troops to protect the rebel Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, cementing Moscow's dominance of the disputed territories.

Russia will keep 3,800 troops in each of the regions, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced Tuesday, a day after the Kremlin pledged to withdraw its troops from the rest of Georgia.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also announced a package of military support for the regions in the latest rebuff to Georgia's stated aim of restoring its territory integrity.

Russia and the two regions have "already agreed on the numbers -- around 3,800 in each republic," Serdyukov told President Dmitry Medvedev in a televised meeting.

"I hope that at least this will stop the Georgian military regime from carrying out their idiotic acts," Medvedev replied.

Before Russia's five-day armed conflict with Georgia in August, analysts estimated there were 2,500-3,000 Russian troops in Abkhazia and 500 Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

Later Tuesday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged military support including bases to the foreign ministers of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at a meeting in Moscow.

The three finalized an agreement calling on all sides to take "all measures at their disposal... to prevent acts of aggression by a state or group of states," Lavrov said in a televised press conference.

The agreement "directly mentions the commitments we have made to each other in terms of the location of military objects, including, of course, military bases," he said.

It allows each signatory to "build, use or modernize the military infrastructure of its partners," he added.

On Monday Russia promised to withdraw from the rest of Georgia in a deal brokered by a European delegation headed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The deal envisaged the pull-back of all Russian troops from Georgia apart from South Ossetia and Abkhazia within a month and the deployment of 200 EU observers to join 220 other international monitors on the ground.

Russian troops withdrew Tuesday from a Georgian village near the breakaway region of Abkhazia in what a Georgian interior ministry spokesman described as a "first sign" of the promised pull-out.

Russia's military surged into Georgia on August 8 to rebuff a Georgian offensive to regain control of South Ossetia from Moscow-backed separatists. It went on to recognise the two breakaway regions as independent states.

Russia, which has been accused by the West of trying to redraw the map of Georgia, argues it had to protect thousands of people granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of people on both sides are estimated to have been killed in the conflict, which wrought extensive destruction on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. Tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes.

Georgia published Monday its own figures on Russia's troop numbers, estimating there are currently 6,000 Russian soldiers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a figure that had come down from 10,000 over the preceding week.

The government statement also said there were an estimated 1,470 Russian soldiers as well as 235 heavily-armoured vehicles -- including six tanks -- in the main part of Georgia outside the rebel regions.

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