A call by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to his Russian counterpart at the height of recent tensions over Abkhazia helped avoid a conflict in the region, according to a senior Georgian minister.
A senior Georgian minister said Wednesday that war in a Georgian region controlled by Russian-backed separatists had only been avoided thanks to a phone call by France's foreign minister to his Russian counterpart.
The minister for reintegration, Temur Yakobashvili, told AFP that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the height of recent tensions over Abkhazia.
"As a result of that conversation there is no war today in Georgia," Yakobashvili said.
Yakobashvili, who visited Paris during the last week, did not specify when Kouchner had made the phone call.
Asked to comment, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Pascale Andreani told journalists that Kouchner and Lavrov were frequently in contact, allowing France "to express our concern over the situation in Georgia and the necessity to decrease tensions."
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian authorities.
Yakobashvili did not give any other details of the incident, but told Rustavi-2 television that "we managed to avoid a very serious provocation due to the intervention of the French foreign minister. Mr Kouchner has personally intervened."
"The fact that today we live in peace and nothing is happening is also because of him," Yakobashvili said.
Growing tensions between Georgia and Russia centre on the situation in Abkhazia and another separatist province, South Ossetia. Both provinces are controlled by rebels backed by Moscow.
In the latest sign of fraying ties, Georgia on Wednesday gave notice that it will quit a regional air defence accord with the Commonwealth of Independent States, a post-Soviet grouping led by Russia, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic which is pushing to join the Western military alliance NATO, already signalled departure from a bilateral air defence treaty with Russia earlier this month.
Over the last month Moscow has tightened formal ties with Georgia's separatist leaderships and sent extra troops to Abkhazia, where they are deployed under a peacekeeping mandate struck after Georgia's central government lost control in the 1990s.
Moscow says the new troops are required to prevent an alleged Georgian plan for a military assault on Abkhazia.
Tbilisi denies preparing war and accuses Moscow of seeking to annex the territories and breaching Georgia's sovereignty in order to keep the country out of NATO.
The tensions have prompted expressions of concern from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday said he hoped the crisis would ease after elections in Georgia on May 21.
"We hope that after the parliamentary elections in Georgia, relations between Russia and Georgia will return to the level of good relations we saw at the start of the year," said Steinmeier after meeting with Lavrov in Russia, RIA Novosti reported.
"We are anxious about all of the growing tensions in this region," Steinmeier was quoted as saying.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia split from Georgia after armed conflicts in the early 1990s, following Georgia's declaration of independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.
Date created : 2008-05-14