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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Asks Belarus to Spurn Russia Over Rebels

TBILISI — Georgia urged Belarus on Wednesday against following Russia in recognizing the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Belarus dispatched parliamentarians to Georgia and its rebel territories this week to consider the issue, with Minsk torn between loyalty to its traditional ally Russia and an opportunity to improve relations with the European Union, which supports Georgia.

Russia recognized the regions in August 2008 after crushing an assault by U.S. ally Georgia on South Ossetia in a five-day war. Only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed suit.

"The objective of the Georgian side is to demonstrate that it's not about choosing between Georgia and Russia, it's about choosing between justice and injustice, between international law and unlawfulness, between peace and violence," Georgian parliament speaker David Bakradze said after meeting the delegation visiting Tbilisi.

"I hope that eventually, despite all the awkwardness and the delicacy of the political situation in which [Belarus] is in ... at the end of the day their decision will be based first of all on the principles of international law."

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has insisted he will not be strong-armed by Moscow into a decision. Close military and economic ties between the two countries have become strained by moves by Lukashenko to improve relations with the West.

Belarussian parliament representative Sergei Maskovich was tight-lipped when pressed by reporters in Tbilisi on whether Minsk would recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"We are simply investigating this issue," he said.

Two groups of parliamentarians are in South Ossetia and Abkhazia this week.

When the visit was announced this month, a source in the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Tbilisi had approved a request to visit the breakaway territories, which Georgia has branded off-limits to foreigners without authorization from Tbilisi.