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An illusion or a thawing in Russia-Georgia ties?
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22:09, April 21, 2008

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Beset by bickering over spies, peacekeepers, trade embargoes and a transport blockade, relations between Moscow and Tbilisi are far from cordial, yet both sides have voiced a desire to improve ties.

  ROWS OVER BREAKAWAY REGIONS

In March, Moscow removed its sanctions on economic, trade, financial and transport links with Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo from Serbia in February.

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, issued a statement on March 21 advising President Vladimir Putin and the government to mull recognition of the self-declared independence of the two ethnic Russian-populated regions.

Further more, Putin instructed his government to provide aid and "create mechanisms of comprehensive protection of the rights, freedoms and lawful interests of Russian citizens, who live in those republics."

He also required the government to enhance trade, economic, cultural and other cooperation with local authorities of the two regions, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

In a move believed to be aimed at calming Tbilisi's fury over such measures, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday Putin also "ordered further practical measures toward normalizing relations with Georgia."

The government is expected to begin talks on lifting bans on imports from Georgia such as wine following the resumption of air links and a postal service this month.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze, however, called such good-gesture words an "illusion" to bamboozle Georgia's "friends in Europe and the United States" that backed the independence of Kosovo and were against Russia's close ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Georgian authorities really want to improve relations with Russia, but these relations cannot be normal to the prejudice of Georgian national interests and sovereignty," said parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze.

The European Union criticized Russia's decisions to enhance cooperation with the breakaway regions where separatist movements erupted in the early 1990s, saying such a move "risks further increasing tensions and undermines the international peace efforts."

Following conflicts in the regions, Tbilisi compromised with a ceasefire that is also monitored by Russian peacekeepers.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer have expressed concern over Russia's decision to boost ties with those regions, and called for the territorial integrity of Georgia to be preserved.

MOSCOW VS. WASHINGTON

In fact, analysts believe what stands behind the Russian-Georgian standoff is a strategic difference between Moscowand Washington.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Washington stepped up efforts to expand its influence around Russia by supporting the so-called "Color Revolutions" in such former Soviet republics as Ukraine and Georgia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the "Rose" Revolution and came to power in 2004, turned to the West and cooled down relations with Russia.

Georgia's bid for NATO membership added to Russia's worries which have been fueled by Ukraine's close ties with the West and its bid to join the U.S.-led military alliance, as well as Washington's plans to deploy missile defense components in eastern Europe.

In a bid to counter NATO's eastward expansion, Moscow even threatened to take military steps if Georgia and Ukraine join the alliance.

Though NATO leaders did not endorse Tbilisi and Kiev's membership at the alliance's Bucharest summit earlier this month, analysts say there's no end in sight yet for the wrestling between Moscow and Washington and the twists in Russian-Georgian ties.

Source:Xinhua



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