Russia closes its embassy in Georgia

Russia has closed its embassy in Georgia and frozen the operations of its consulate, the Russian consul said Wednesday.

Russia has closed its embassy in Georgia and frozen the operations of its consulate, the Russian consul said Wednesday.

Valery Vasilyev said the diplomatic break follows formal notice from Georgia that it is severing diplomatic ties.

The Georgian Embassy in Moscow closed Wednesday, according to its chargé d'affaires, Givi Shugarov. He said all embassy officials would leave by the end of September.

But the Georgian consulate in Moscow will remain open for now, Shugarov said. Consulates are smaller versions of embassies and handle minor diplomatic relations, such as issuing visas.

When Georgia announced it was severing ties, it said consular relations would continue — apparently an effort to punish Russia without hurting Georgians with links there.

The closures follow a five-day war over two secessionist provinces — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — that began Aug. 7 when Georgian forces started shelling the South Ossetian capital, hoping to retake control of the province.

Russian forces poured into the region, pushed the Georgians out in a matter of days and then drove deep into the former Soviet republic.

Fighting has ended, but the conflict has increased tensions between Moscow and the West, especially after Moscow recognized the two breakawa  regions as independent nations and said it would provide them with military aid.

Wednesday's diplomatic suspension means no new applications for Russian entry visas will be accepted, a blow to Georgians who have relatives in Russia or other ties there. Hundreds of thousands of Georgians live in Russia, and many ethnic Georgians in Russia are Russian citizens.

Existing visa applications will be processed, Vasilyev said. Without visas, Georgians cannot travel to Russia unless they have dual citizenship.

With files from the Associated Press