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Russia says EU pressures Belarus over S.Ossetia, Abkhazia

A senior Russian diplomat has accused the EU of exerting pressure on Belarus not to recognize the former Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said in late February that Belarus would create "a very difficult situation" if it were to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. His comments came on the same day that the European Union announced the inclusion of Belarus in its Eastern Partnership (EaP) program. EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita-Ferrero Waldner also said that the possible recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Minsk could hamper its ties with the EU. "Schwarzenberg's statement should be regarded as severe public pressure from the EU presidency on Belarus," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in an interview with the Russian daily newspaper, Izvestia. "In an unacceptable, ultimatum-like form, Minsk has been offered a range of possibilities for drawing closer to Europe in exchange for the surrender of its sovereign right to take decisions on major foreign policy issues," Karasin added. Under the EaP program, Belarus and another five former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, will be granted 350 million euros ($448 million) in extra financial assistance by 2013. The Belarusian parliament is due to consider recognizing the two republics on April 2. Russia recognized the two states as independent on August 26, 2008. The move came two weeks after the end of a five-day war with Georgia, which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control over the republic. So far, only Nicaragua has joined Russia in acknowledging the sovereignty of the two republics. The Foreign Ministries of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have also slammed Schwarzenberg's statement. Karasin quoted Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry as saying it "posed a threat to the Geneva talks under the EU's auspices" that began last October. South Ossetia and Abkhazia split from Georgia amid bloody post-Soviet conflicts. The majority of residents of both republics have had Russian citizenship for many years.
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