TBILISI, Georgia Russian lawmakers on Monday urged the Kremlin to recognize the independence of two separatist Georgian regions, heightening tensions with Georgia where the government said hundreds of Russian soldiers remained at checkpoints.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did not immediately respond to the unanimous votes in both houses of Russia's parliament, but he has said Moscow would support whatever choice the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia make about their future status.
Western countries warned Moscow against recognizing the breakaway regions of Georgia, an allied nation pressing for NATO membership. President Bush said such an action would undercut a United Nations effort to resolve Georgia's border disputes.
"I call on Russia's leadership to meet its commitments and not recognize these separatist regions," Bush said in a statement from Crawford, Texas, where he is vacationing at his ranch.
"Georgia's territorial integrity and borders must command the same respect as every other nation's, including Russia's," he said.
But Medvedev signaled the criticism was of little concern to the Kremlin.
NATO needs Russia more than Russia needs NATO, Medvedev said, and it would be "nothing frightening" if the Western alliance were to sever all ties. NATO has suspended operations of the NATO-Russia Council over the Georgia crisis, which has broadened Europe's post-Cold War fault lines.
"We don't need an illusion of partnership, when they surround us by bases from all sides, they drag more and more states into the North Atlantic bloc and they tell us, 'Don't worry, everything's fine' of course we don't like that," Medvedev said.
After Georgia launched a barrage against the breakaway region's capital, Russian tanks and troops poured into South Ossetia on Aug. 8, then drove deep into Georgia proper.
The Russian forces pulled back Friday in what Moscow claims is fulfillment of a European Union-brokered cease-fire. However, Georgia and its Western allies say Russia has violated the cease-fire's call to pull back to prewar positions because it has set up posts adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgian Security Council head Alexander Lomaia told The Associated Press on Monday that Russia has set up at least 14 positions in the security zones, apparently manned by hundreds of troops. "It's difficult to count them, but they say they are deploying at least 20 at each checkpoint and two or three heavy armored vehicles," he said.
Although Georgia bitterly opposes the security zones, the country's small military is unlikely to be able to push out the Russian soldiers. Russia's huge armed forces quickly overwhelmed Georgia's, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has been accused of starting a war that Georgia had no hope of winning.
Lomaia said Georgia will seek to force the Russians out by using "the force of law, not the law of force."
"We will focus on a concentrated international effort to help Georgia to get rid of the Russian forces," he said.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Russia is "still failing to live up to and honor" the cease-fire accord. "There continues to be a large presence of Russian forces in Georgia," he said.
But how much the U.S. and western Europe, which depends on Russia for oil and natural gas, are willing to force the issue remains unclear.
The European Union declared that South Ossetia and Abkhazia must remain in Georgia, and Germany said the Russian parliament votes were "in no way appropriate to either calming or defusing" tensions.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called a meeting of EU leaders Sept. 1 to discuss aid to Georgia and relations with Russia. The French foreign minister said the EU was not considering sanctions against Moscow.
The White House announced it was dispatching Vice President Dick Cheney to the region Sept. 2, for stops in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Italy and Georgia, where he will meet with Saakashvili. Republican presidential candidate John McCain said his wife, Cindy, was on her way to Georgia.
In Washington, the State Department said senior diplomats from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations talked by phone and agreed the group is "alarmed by reports of Russian plans to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."
The group reaffirmed support for Georgia's territorial integrity and discussed the possibility of issuing a joint G-7 statement about Russian action, the State Department said. Russia is linked with those seven nations in the Group of Eight, so a statement from just the G-7 would underline the exclusion of Russia.
In another sign of worsening relations with the West, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin backed proposals for Moscow to renege on some commitments it has made during talks on gaining membership in the World Trade Organization, state media reported.
Russia is the largest economy outside the WTO and has been trying to join since 1995.
Western officials, including President Bush, say Russia's entry could be jeopardized by its military actions in Georgia. Analysts said Russia's toughened stance was a response to those warnings.
In Georgia, Russian soldiers remained dug in at two checkpoints near the Black Sea port city of Poti, their most controversial and potentially damaging position. Poti itself lies outside the security zones that Russia claims it has the right to occupy, but the Russian military says it will continue to try to control the city.
Georgian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Nana Intskirveli said Russia has not released 12 of the 22 servicemen it seized last week in Poti. The men were blindfolded and driven away in the presence of photographers; 10 were later released and Russia reportedly promised to free the others.
"Their fate is unknown," Intskirveli said.
South Ossetia, meanwhile, accused Georgian forces of taking control of three villages on the edge of the region Monday after Russian troops withdrew. The province's premier, Boris Chochiyev said a delegation was dispatched for negotiations.
"We are hoping to resolve this situation peacefully. And if that doesn't work out, there are other methods," he said.
Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said Georgian police were in the villages, not soldiers. He said the villages were under Georgian control before the fighting and that under the cease-fire Georgia has the right to station police there.
"We haven't seized anything," he said.