Aug 4 (Reuters) - The Russian-backed rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were recognised by Moscow as independent states after a five-day war last August with Georgia.
A year on, only Nicaragua has followed suit. The rest of the world still considers the regions part of Georgia.
Following are brief profiles of the two rebel territories, which threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
- About 8,000 square km (3,088 square miles), Abkhazia is a lush strip of land on the Black Sea about half the size of Wales. Once the playground of the Soviet elite, the territory has ambitions to become a top tourist destination for Russians, who already account for 90 percent of holidaymakers.
- Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in a 1992-93 war after Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union stoked fears among the Abkhaz that their influence in their homeland would be further diminished. After sporadic fighting, Georgia sent in the army and paramilitaries to stamp out calls for secession, only to be pushed back to the Inguri river -- today's de facto border -- by Abkhaz militias backed by Russian forces.
- The population of Abkhazia is around 200,000 people. Georgia says 200,000 ethnic Georgians and Mingrelians fled during the 1992-93 war. Around 60,000 have returned, mainly to the eastern Gali region adjacent to Georgia proper.
- As fighting raged last year in South Ossetia, Abkhazia seized the opportunity to take back the last corner of its territory, pushing Georgian police out of the Kodori gorge. Russia now controls its borders, and plans to build military bases, including a naval base at Ochamchire.
- A United Nations mission of some 130 monitors had observed the fragile peace since the 1992-93 war, but was forced to leave in July after Russia vetoed an extension to its mandate. Russia objected to a reference in a Western draft U.N. resolution which reaffirmed Georgia's territorial integrity.
- According to the Abkhaz authorities, 90 percent of foreign investment is Russian. Pensions are paid by Russia and the rouble is the currency. Tourism is Abkhazia's best hope of sustainable development.
- Just 50 km (30 miles) from the Georgian capital Tbilisi at its nearest point, South Ossetia covers 3,900 square km (1,505 square miles) on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. It has a population of some 63,000.
- South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in a 1991-92 war following Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union. It maintains close ties with the Russian region of North Ossetia on its northern border, with whose people it shares a common ethnicity and Farsi-related language. Self-styled president and former wrestler Eduard Kokoity told Reuters he hopes to unite South Ossetia with Russia.
- In August last year, after months of escalating tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi, Georgia launched an assault on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, prompting a massive counter-strike from Russia. As in Abkhazia, Russia now controls South Ossetia's de facto borders. Most people hold Russian passports and the rouble is the currency.
- A small team of monitors of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had operated on the ground since the 1991-92 war, but was denied access after last year's war and has since been forced to close down after Russia rejected a Western proposal to extend its mandate.
- Tskhinvali was heavily shelled during last August's war, and reconstruction has been slow. Around 25,000 Georgians have been unable to return to their villages and thousands of Ossetians remain homeless.
- The economy is heavily dependent on Russian subsidies. Kokoity said Russia has allocated 8.5 billion roubles ($270 million) for this year, but local officials complain not all has made it to the region.
(Compiled by Moscow and Tbilisi bureaux)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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