EU voices support for Georgia amid Russia row
Lithuania, Ukraine Presidents issued a statement saying they were "worried"
The European Union voiced support for Georgia on Monday amid tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow over Russian-backed separatists, AFP reports.
Separately, US President George W. Bush expressed "concern" at tensions over the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia in a phone conversation with Russia`s new President Dmitry Medvedev, the White House said.
The message of European support was delivered by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, as the separatists in Abkhazia claimed to have downed two more Georgian spy planes.
"The European Union reiterates its support for Georgia`s sovereignty and its territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders," said Rupel, who was accompanied in Tbilisi by the foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.
The ministers -- three of them from east European states that broke from Moscow`s rule in 1991 -- were holding talks with President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on a worsening Georgian-Russian stand-off.
In Washington, White House spokesman Dana Perino said Bush had spoken to Medvedev and "raised his concerns about the situation in Georgia and hoped that all sides were working to reduce tensions."
And in the Lithuanian capital, the presidents of Lithuania and Ukraine, Valdas Adamkus and Viktor Yushchenko, issued a statement saying they were "worried" about Moscow`s strengthening of relations with the separatists.
"Such a decision questions Georgia`s territorial integrity and increases tension in the region," they said.
Last week Saakashvili said his country had come close to war with Russia in recent days and that the tensions remained.
On Monday, Abkhazia said it had shot down two more Georgian spy drones, bringing to seven the number it claims to have downed in recent weeks.
"The second Georgian unmanned spy plane today and the seventh overall has been shot down... in the sky over Abkhazia," Interfax quoted Abkhazia`s rebel presidency as saying.
Georgia immediately denied the claim. Tbilisi has only acknowledged one such shooting, which it said was carried out by a Russian fighter jet on April 20.
Saakashvili called on the EU to investigate Tbilisi`s claim that Russia had downed the drone and what Georgia says was an illegal increase in the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia.
"The recent moves made by Russia have raised serious concerns and we ask the EU to investigate intrusions into our airspace and illegal movements of the Russian military," Saakashvili said.
Rupel said the EU would discuss Georgia`s claims at the next meeting of its general affairs and external relations council.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said the EU was preparing to play a stronger role in dealing with Georgia`s unresolved conflicts with Abkhazia and another Russian-backed rebel region, South Ossetia.
"The EU is becoming more actively involved in the resolution of frozen conflicts in Georgia," he said.
Tensions over Abkhazia have been rising since mid-April.
First, Moscow announced it was boosting ties with separatist authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Then it increased the number of peacekeeping forces in the region, saying Georgia was preparing a military assault to retake the rebel territory.
Tbilisi accused Moscow of seeking to annex the territories and of breaching Georgia`s sovereignty. Officials said the increase in peacekeepers was illegal because it exceeded previously agreed quotas, which could not be changed without Georgia`s permission.
The tensions have prompted expressions of concern from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
Georgia`s pro-Western government has accused Moscow of trying to weaken the country and stymie its efforts to join the NATO military alliance.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia split from Georgia after armed conflicts in the early 1990s, following Georgia`s declaration of independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.