Georgia-Russia Relations Warning
Published: January 25, 2013 (Issue # 1743)
MOSCOW – A cocktail-party chat that lasted only minutes has triggered hopes that the country's troubled relations with Georgia might be headed for substantial recovery.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had a conversation with his Georgian counterpart, Bidzina Ivanishvili, during a reception at the Davos World Economic Forum late Wednesday, Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Thursday. "Both prime ministers were at the reception and had a conversation," she was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Timakova downplayed the meeting by adding that Medvedev talked "with many delegation heads from other countries" during the forum, but national media were quick to point out that the encounter marked the first direct contact between governments of both countries in years.
Diplomatic ties between Moscow and Tbilisi were cut in 2008, after both countries fought a brief war over Georgia's breakaway region South Ossetia, followed by Moscow's recognition of independence for that region
as well as nearby Abkhazia. Moscow has since adamantly refused any contact with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom it accuses to be a war criminal for ordering troops into South Ossetia.
But the outlook has changed since Saakashvili's United National Movement was defeated in parliamentary elections last fall by Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition. Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made much of his wealth in Russia, has said he wants better relations with Moscow.
This week saw other symbolic high-level meetings of officials between both countries. On Wednesday, Georgian Patriarch Ilia II became the most prominent Georgian to be received by President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin since the 2008 war.
The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has maintained close ties with his Russian counterpart, Kirill, over the past years. Both church leaders met for talks Tuesday. Unlike the Kremlin, the Moscow Patriarchy has in the past supported Georgia's territorial integrity, arguing that under church law, the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain part of Georgia.
No details of the Kremlin talks were published, but Ilia told RIA-Novosti that he would raise the issue with Putin.
Thursday then saw the first direct contacts between senior lawmakers from both sides, when the foreign relations committee heads from both countries met in Strasbourg.
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