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EXCLUSIVE-Moldovan, Georgian leaders to visit U.S. -congressional aides

Source: Reuters - Wed, 19 Feb 2014 23:34 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The leaders of Georgia and Moldova are due to visit Washington in the next two weeks, congressional aides said on Wednesday, in what appears to be an effort to show U.S. support for Russia's neighbors amid the violent political crisis in Ukraine.

Congressional aides said that Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili will be in Washington next week, and Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca will visit during the first week of March.

The visits look aimed at sending a message to Moscow that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration will stand by the two small former Soviet republics during the Ukraine crisis.

Obama and other Western leaders stepped up pressure on Ukraine's Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, on Wednesday after 26 people were killed in the country's worst violence since independence from the Soviet Union.

Street protests have raged for nearly three months since Yanukovich spurned a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, although Yanukovich said on Wednesday he had agreed to a truce with opposition leaders.

Georgia and Moldova are also negotiating trade pacts with the EU. Georgia fought a brief border war with Russia in 2008.

"I can't speak to how the invites were initiated, but Georgian and Moldovan PMs will be in Washington, the former during the last week of this month, and the latter in the first week in March," said a congressional aide, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

White House officials declined to confirm the planned visits. (Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)

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