Putin promises to support Georgian separatist republics

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes Raul Khajimba, leader of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, ahead of talks at the Kremlin with South Ossetia's Anatoly Bibilov

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday told leaders of the Georgian separatist republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia that Moscow would do all it could to guarantee their security, a decade on from a Russia-Georgia war.

South Ossetia's Anatoly Bibilov and Abkhazia's Raul Khajimba were at the Kremlin for talks, 10 years after Russia became one of the few countries to recognise independence claims made in the 1990s.

"We are striving to do all we can to guarantee the security of South Ossetia, to give it economic support," Putin said during a meeting with Bibilov.

"Despite all the difficulties, and there are many, the republic is developing," he said.

Later he told Khajimba: "We attach great importance to our work together aimed at guaranteeing the security of Abkhazia."

"This involves cooperation between the armed forces and border security," he said.

Georgia and its Soviet-era master Moscow have long been at loggerheads over Tbilisi's bid to join the European Union and NATO with the spiralling confrontation culminating in a full-out war on August 8, 2008.

After the short war -- that claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians from both sides -- Moscow recognised South Ossetia and another separatist enclave, Abkhazia, as independent states where it then stationed permanent military bases.

The two regions constitute 20 percent of Georgia's territory.

Georgia and its Western allies have condemned Russia's continued "occupation" of its territory and have demanded the Kremlin reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

During a visit to Georgia on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Russian presence in the region "a great injustice".