MOSCOW (AFP)–Russian lawmakers voted Monday to recognize Georgia’s breakaway regions as independent amid warnings from Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of "disastrous results" if the Kremlin redraws the post-Soviet map.
The two houses of parliament approved resolutions formally calling on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to declare South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent from Georgia.
"Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will ever again live in one state with Georgia," Abkhaz separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh told the Federation Council upper house of parliament ahead of the vote.
Eduard Kokoity, president of South Ossetia, applauds inside the Russian Duma Monday.
Bagapsh also called for a military cooperation agreement between Russia and Abkhazia, raising the prospect of a long-lasting Russian military presence in the Black Sea region.
The two regions are internationally recognized as part of Georgia, where Russian troops were dug in after rolling into the former Soviet republic nearly three weeks ago in response to a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia.
South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told lawmakers Russia had saved his region from "genocide."
He asserted there was more political and legal legitimacy to recognizing independence for South Ossetia than there had been for Kosovo, a province, which broke from Serbia in February and won recognition from the United States and a number of EU countries.
In an interview to the French daily Liberation published Monday, Saakashvili warned Russia’s recognition of the two separatist republics would have "disastrous results including for Russia."
He accused Russia of attempting to "redraw Europe’s borders by force" after sending troops into Georgia and later debating in parliament a unilateral change of status for the breakaway regions. Although Saakashvili has unilaterally adopted the EU flag, Georgia is not a part of Europe.
Russian deputies assailed Saakashvili as a pawn of the West and described the Georgian offensive in South Ossetia as part of a broader Western campaign to weaken Russia.
Criticizing Saakashvili’s "criminal regime," Duma deputy Alexei Ostrovsky said the Georgian leader’s politics "benefit his international masters and not his own people."
"The moment of truth has arrived," said Nikolai Levichev, a deputy from the Just Russia party.
"For a long time, Russia did not provide the necessary resistance to America’s doctrine of infringing into Russia’s immediate periphery by way of ‘exporting democracy’.
"We waited to the point where the results of Georgia’s imported democracy were artillery shells in the ruined neighborhoods of Tskhinvali," he said, referring to the battered South Ossetian capital.
The Federation Council adopted an appeal to Medvedev stating that Georgia’s "aggressive actions… forever stripped the Georgian leadership of the right to insist that the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia must be subjected to its reckless policies, which led to a humanitarian catastrophe."
The resolutions by the State Duma lower house and the Federation Council house were not binding, and any final decision on Russian recognition of the Georgian regions as independent rests with Medvedev.
The Russian president has signaled his support for this, however, saying earlier this month that he would "make the decision which unambiguously supports the will of these two Caucasus peoples."
Experts said the two regions would likely remain in limbo if Medvedev were to recognize them, since few other countries were likely to follow Moscow’s lead.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia would probably end up like Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Turkey, said Yevgeny Volk, a Moscow-based political analyst with the US-based Heritage Foundation.
"Russia will be perfectly content if they are pseudo-independent states," Volk told AFP.
Moscow has backed the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia since their break with Tbilisi in the early 1990s but had stopped short of declaring them independent from Georgia.