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Georgia-Russia Relations Warning

Published: January 25, 2013 (Issue # 1743)


MOSCOW Acocktail-party chat that lasted only minutes has triggered hopes that thecountry's troubled relations with Georgia might be headed forsubstantial recovery.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had aconversation with his Georgian counterpart, Bidzina Ivanishvili, during areception atthe Davos World Economic Forum late Wednesday, Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Thursday. "Both prime ministers were atthe reception andhad aconversation," she was quoted as saying byInterfax.

Timakova downplayed themeeting byadding that Medvedev talked "with many delegation heads fromother countries" during theforum, but national media were quick topoint out that theencounter marked thefirst direct contact between governments ofboth countries inyears.

Diplomatic ties between Moscow andTbilisi were cut in2008, after both countries fought abrief war over Georgia's breakaway region South Ossetia, followed byMoscow's recognition ofindependence forthat region

as well as nearby Abkhazia. Moscow has since adamantly refused any contact with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom it accuses tobe awar criminal forordering troops intoSouth Ossetia.

But theoutlook has changed since Saakashvili's United National Movement was defeated inparliamentary elections last fall byIvanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition. Ivanishvili, abillionaire who made much ofhis wealth inRussia, has said he wants better relations with Moscow.

This week saw other symbolic high-level meetings ofofficials between both countries. OnWednesday, Georgian Patriarch Ilia II became themost prominent Georgian tobe received byPresident Vladimir Putin inthe Kremlin since the2008 war.

Thehead ofthe Georgian Orthodox Church has maintained close ties with his Russian counterpart, Kirill, over thepast years. Both church leaders met fortalks Tuesday. Unlike theKremlin, theMoscow Patriarchy has inthe past supported Georgia's territorial integrity, arguing that under church law, thebreakaway regions Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia remain part ofGeorgia.

No details ofthe Kremlin talks were published, but Ilia told RIA-Novosti that he would raise theissue with Putin.

Thursday then saw thefirst direct contacts between senior lawmakers fromboth sides, when theforeign relations committee heads fromboth countries met inStrasbourg.

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