Russia has earned a wave of international criticism by giving its blessing to the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions.
President Dmitry Medvedev recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent, and urged other nations to do the same.
His announcement followed Monday’s vote in the Russian parliament supporting independence and calling on the Kremlin to make it official.
Moscow doubted the two regions would join the Russian Federation, but South Ossetia called for a permanent Russian military base within its borders.
Medvedev’s announcement was greeted with joy in the two rebel provinces. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have both said they will never again accept Georgian rule.
Many people said they had waited all their lives for this moment. One man said:
“We are overcome with happiness. We have spent 50 years fighting for this day, and now, at last, it has come. Long live Russia, long live Abkhazia, and with God’s help, we can now live at peace with everybody.”
Despite the excitement, Russia’s decision further escalates the tension in the Caucasus, and puts Moscow even more firmly on a collision course with the West.