Georgia will reduce its diplomatic staff in its embassy in Moscow to a minimum, Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said on Wednesday, a day after Russia recognized the independence of two Georgian breakaway regions.
"We are downgrading diplomatic relations with Russia. Only two diplomats will remain working in our embassy in Moscow," Tkeshelashvili was quoted by Georgian news agency Caucasus Press as saying.
Georgian lawmakers are expected to discuss diplomatic relations with Russia at a parliament session on Thursday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed decrees recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke from central Georgian rule during wars in the early 1990s.
Medvedev said recognition "is the sole chance of saving people's lives" after the recent clashes in South Ossetia.
U.S. President George W. Bush and other Western leaders were quick to take a swipe at Russia's move. Bush said Russia should reverse its "irresponsible decision." France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU), "strongly condemned" the Russian decision.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili added to a chorus of criticism by saying Russia's move is "in direct violation of international law."
But Medvedev would not budge, saying Russia feared nothing although it did not want a repeat of the Cold War.
"We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War, but we don't want one, and in this situation everything depends on the position of our partners," Medvedev told the English-language Russia Today television channel.
Georgia sent in troops to reclaim South Ossetia earlier this month, triggering a military offensive by Russia. France brokered a ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia.
A second U.S. naval ship -- U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas -- arrived in Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi on Wednesday with aid to Georgia, including hygiene items, food, milk and juices. A previous vessel -- the USS McFaul -- docked earlier at the same port bringing aid.
Georgia, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus and a staunch U.S. ally, has long been at odds with Russia over the two breakaway territories and Georgia's bid to join the transatlantic NATO alliance and the EU.
Georgia has already recalled its envoy to Moscow in July after Russia admitted to sending fighter jets into Georgian airspace.
Ties with Russia had nosedived in September 2006, when Georgia briefly detained five Russian soldiers on espionage charges, which Russia strongly denied, prompting Moscow to temporarily recall its ambassador to Georgia.
(Xinhua News Agency August 28, 2008)