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Putin wants normalised relations with Georgia

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Latest update : 2008-04-19

Moscow said it would consider lifting bans on Georgian products in a bid to restore soured relations between the two countries, though Georgia brushed aside talk of normalisation so long as Russia supports separatists in the Black Sea state.

Moscow said on Friday it was moving to lift sanctions against its neighbour Georgia amid tensions over Russian support for separatists in the Black Sea state.

Russia's foreign ministry said President Vladimir Putin had ordered "further practical steps to normalise relations with Georgia."

These included restoring postal links, lifting visa restrictions and holding "consultations" on a Russian ban on imports of Georgian products.

The Russian move was swatted aside by Georgia's Foreign Minister David Bakradze, who said it could have "no substance" as long as Moscow continued to support the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

And the United States urged Russia to scrap a decree issued on Wednesday on intensifying ties with the two regions.

The row over the separatist territories comes amid wider tensions over Georgia's desire to join the NATO military alliance, something Moscow vehemently opposes.

Moscow has also sought closer ties with the separatists since Western states recognised the independence of Kosovo from Russian-backed Serbia.

The sanctions against Georgia were originally imposed in 2006 and include a ban on Georgian wines that are prized in the region.

On Friday the Russian ministry said it aimed to remove "all limits impeding the region's socio-economic development, free transit of people and cooperation among peoples."

It said the move confirmed Russia's "constructive" approach and that Moscow expected "reciprocal positive steps" from Georgia.

But the Georgian minister, Bakradze, said "Russia is attempting to annex one-third of Georgia's territory and offering to improve relations with the remaining two-thirds.

"Relations must be improved with a whole, unified Georgia, otherwise this proposal has no substance," he said.

And US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on Russia to annul Wednesday's decree on relations with the separatist regions.

"We are deeply concerned by the April 16 Russian presidential instructions authorising increased contacts between the Russian government and the separatist regimes... without the approval of the Georgian government," McCormack said.

"We urge Russia to live up to its statements of support for the principles of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity and to repeal the... instructions," he added.

Russia announced on Wednesday that it would increase cooperation in trade and culture with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and would provide "complete protection" to Russians living there, a reference to the many local residents given Russian citizenship.

Georgia believes that amounts to an attempt to annex the two territories.

Since first coming to power in 2004 Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili has won strong backing from the United States and has provided troops for operations in Iraq.

On Friday a high-level Georgian envoy, Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze, held meetings in Brussels aimed at winning support in the row from the European Union and NATO.

The European Union presidency urged Russia "not to implement" its decision to boost cooperation with the separatist regions in a statement.

The EU is "seriously concerned" at Russia's decision "to establish official ties with institutions of the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia without the consent of the Government of Georgia," the EU's Slovenian presidency said.

A NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, said "the alliance is in favour of Russia reversing its decision" on tighter relations with the separatists.

Moscow lobbied hard at this month's NATO summit in Bucharest for the alliance not to start membership negotiations either with Georgia or Ukraine, also a former Soviet republic.

Georgia is also seeking an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Russia's move.

South Africa's UN ambassador, currently chairing the Council, said the request is likely to be taken up early next week.

Date created : 2008-04-18

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