Russia in first direct talks with Georgia

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Russia and Georgia set out a blueprint for the partial restoration of ties at their first direct talks about bilateral relations since the former Soviet republics fought a five-day war in 2008, the Georgian negotiator said yesterday.

Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic ties due to the war, which followed years of tension over Moscow’s support for two rebel regions and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s drive to bring his nation into Nato, and trade all but dried up.

Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition beat Saakashvili’s long-ruling party in parliamentary elections in October, wants to mend ties with Moscow while maintaining warm relations with the US and Europe.

“We defined those issues that we plan to start negotiations about: trade, humanitarian and cultural ties, and restoration of regular flights between the two countries,” Zurab Abashidze, Ivanishvili’s envoy for relations with Russia, said. At the meeting on Friday, held in Geneva and mediated by Switzerland, the countries agreed to regular talks, he added.

The Russian foreign ministry said the representatives “exchanged views on possible ways to normalise relations between Russian and Georgia in specific spheres”.

But restoration of diplomatic ties is not yet on the agenda, and Russia has made clear it will give no ground on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions it recognised as independent nations after its forces crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia during the 2008 war.