Saakashvili Comments Denied

Russia on Wednesday denied ever promising not to recognize the independence of two breakaway provinces in Georgia, as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed.

Saakashvili said in an interview published Monday in Kommersant that, during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, "it was clearly promised to me that Russia would never recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

The Foreign Ministry said no such promises were made during Putin's meeting with Saakashvili in Moscow on Feb. 21.

"The ongoing attempts to dictate the Russian position, to attribute to us certain political games, produces ... a very bad impression," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia, which has supported the autonomy of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has drawn parallels between their status and that of Kosovo.

Saakashvili has struggled during his presidency to bring the two separatist provinces back into the fold.

Analysts say Russia, which officially acknowledges Georgia's territorial integrity, could recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Georgia joins NATO or moves closer to membership.

The issue has gained new urgency with this week's NATO summit in Romania.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was ready to improve relations with Georgia but expected reciprocity. "Unfortunately, sometimes we don't see that," Lavrov said to State Duma deputies.

Lavrov also said his ministry would carefully consider a Duma request that Russia recognize the independence of the two separatist provinces.

The Duma urged the Kremlin last month to "speed up the process of sovereignty" for Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Georgia's drive to join NATO moved forward.

The nonbinding declaration, passed March 21, was seen as part of a Russian effort to prevent Georgia from joining NATO and unlikely to lead to swift recognition of the two separatist provinces' independence.