Times Wire Reports

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed to defend South Ossetia's independence as he presided over the inauguration of the first pipeline to carry Russian natural gas directly to the breakaway Georgian republic, bypassing Georgia proper.

During a meeting in Moscow between Putin and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller called his deputy in the South Ossetian capital and told him to open the valve.

The meeting took place on the first anniversary of Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and a second breakaway republic, Abkhazia, after a brief war last year between Russia and Georgia.

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