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Published: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:55:02 AM
Updated: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 9:55:02 AM

Exclusive-Moldova, Georgia leaders to visit U.S. - congressional aides

WASHINGTON (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 neighbours amid the ongoing 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.

"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.

The visits would appear to be aimed at sending a message to Moscow that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration will stand by the two countries 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.

The United States imposed visa bans on 20 senior Ukrainian government officials believed to be responsible for the violent crackdown. The European Union said it was preparing targeted sanctions against those responsible.

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

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

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Alistair Bell, Mohammad Zargham and G Crosse)

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