U.S., EU Fret Over Abkhazia

ReutersPeople holding posters reading "No to Russia's Fascism!" during a rally Wednesday at the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi.
BRUSSELS -- The United States and European Union have sharply criticized Russia for its actions in recent weeks in the dispute between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner expressed concern to the European Parliament on Wednesday about Russia's decision to bolster its peacekeeping forces along the administrative border separating Georgia and Abkhazia.

She also said Russia's decision to strengthen its ties with Abkhazia eroded Georgia's territorial integrity. She urged Russia to respect Georgia's borders.

The EU remarks followed criticism from the United States on Tuesday over the bolstering of Russian troops and what it said was Moscow's downing of an unmanned, unarmed Georgian spy plane in Georgian air space.

"These steps have significantly and unnecessarily heightened tensions in the region," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington.

She said Moscow must "de-escalate and reverse its measures," begin playing a true mediator role in the dispute and reiterate its commitment to Georgia's "territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Perino also warned Georgia not to take any military action to settle its separatist conflicts or to respond to Russia's moves.

Georgia has announced that it was withdrawing from a 1995 agreement that coordinated air defenses among defense ministries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

All the recent developments have fueled international fears that full-scale fighting could break out involving Georgia, Abkhazia and the strengthened Russian peacekeeping force.

Russia is a longtime backer of Abkhazia and its ambitions for recognition as an independent state.