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Russia softens to Georgia peace plan

Latest update : 2008-07-19

Russia has softened towards a Germany-brokered peace plan to avoid conflict in Georgia over the breakaway Abkhazia region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov softened earlier criticism of a German peace plan aimed at resolving a conflict with Georgia Friday, saying it offered a potential basis to break the deadlock.
  
Lavrov said after talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Moscow that Berlin's initiative was "extremely helpful for looking for compromises and a way out of the crisis."
  
"We believe that the logic of your plan is absolutely the right one," Lavrov told Steinmeier at a joint news conference.
  
During Steinmeier's talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, "it was stressed that the only way out of this situation is mutual obligation not to use force, guarantee security and withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Kodori gorge," the Kremlin said.
  
Germany chairs the so-called UN Group of Friends of the Secretary General seeking to reverse a sharp rise in tensions in a long-simmering conflict between Georgia and the Russian-backed breakaway region of Abkhazia.
  
Separatist leaders have blamed Georgia for a recent series of bombings accompanied by growing friction between Moscow and Tbilisi.
  
The first step of Berlin's plan would entail an end to violence, confidence-building measures over the next year that could lead to the resumption of direct talks between Georgia and Abkhazia, and the return of about 250,000 Georgian refugees to Abkhazia.
  
The second stage would involve developing joint reconstruction projects while the third and most difficult step would determine Abkhazia's future status.
  
Lavrov had earlier slammed the German proposals over the return of refugees as "unrealistic". But his tone changed markedly after his meeting with Steinmeier.
  
"We agreed today that the work in the Group of Friends should not only continue but be intensified.
  
"Of course the conflicting parties must come together for talks and make these steps but we are convinced that the Group of Friends can play a very important role."
  
Lavrov called the plan "comprehensive" and touched on "essential" points such as the economic renewal of the battle-scarred region, stopping the use of force and measures for de-escalation of the flashpoint Kodori gorge -- the only part of Abkhazia controlled by Tbilisi.
  
Georgia considered the talks and the Russian stance "crucial" in resolving the crisis, parliament speaker David Bakradze told reporters late Friday, downplaying the Abkhaz rejection of the German plan.
  
"Now it will be crucial what kind of position Russian authorities will take. The Abkhaz rejection or acceptance of the plan is just a political game, and we all know very well that in fact Russia stands behind the Abkhazians," Bakradze said.
  
"Therefore, these talks will be decisive, and I hope Russian authorities will be a bit more constructive," he added.
  
Georgia gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Germany was the first country to recognize it.
  
Tensions with Russia have soared in recent months over Tbilisi's bid to join NATO and Moscow's support for two separatist territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from the rest of Georgia in the 1990s.
  
Unrest increased further this month with a series of bombings in Abkhazia, which the Abkhaz leadership blamed on Georgia, and Moscow's admission that it had sent military jets on flights over South Ossetia.
  
The incidents raised memories of the two regions' separatist wars in the early 1990s, which killed several thousand people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Date created : 2008-07-19

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