Abkhazia Restrictions Lifted

The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Russia was lifting trade and financial sanctions on Abkhazia, the breakaway Georgian region that wants to be recognized as an independent country -- like Kosovo.

The decision is Moscow's strongest move to date toward Abkhazia and the other breakaway regions in Georgia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. But it was far from recognition of Abkhazia's long-standing claim to independence, which the province is newly emphasizing after widespread Western recognition of Kosovo.

Russia strongly objected to Kosovo's declaration of independence last month, and President Vladimir Putin warned that it set a "terrible precedent." But he said Moscow would not "ape" the West, indicating it would not move swiftly to recognize the breakaway regions.

The Foreign Ministry said that due to "altered circumstances" Russia was not obliged to follow the trade, financial and other restrictions it and other former Soviet republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States had imposed.

The restrictions were agreed on in the mid-1990s, several years after Abkhazia broke away from Georgian government control.

"The situation has changed fundamentally," the ministry said in a statement.

Both Abkhazia and another Georgian region, South Ossetia, and have had de facto independence since the wars of the 1990s. No country recognizes their governments, though Russia has tacitly supported their autonomy -- granting residents Russian passports, maintaining some trade ties and stationing peacekeepers there.