Putin orders Russian government to normalize relations with Georgia

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed government officials to normalize relations with neighboring Georgia, two days after Russia's decision to establish ties with the separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, Putin ordered authorities to hold talks with Georgia aimed at lifting bans on Georgian imports of wine and mineral water, which were banned in 2006. He also ordered the renewal of postal ties with Georgia and an end to visa restrictions. These sanctions were also imposed on Georgia in 2006, after Georgia arrested four Russian servicemen on charges of spying.

"The federal authorities have been assigned to take steps to lift the remaining visa restrictions for Georgian nationals, to speed up the restoration of border crossing at Verkhniy Larc, and to begin bilateral consultations at the experts' level on the issues of access for Georgian goods on the Russian market," said Mikhail Kaminin, a spokesman for Russia's foreign ministry.

Putin's attempt at normalizing relations with Georgia came two days after he announced Russia's intent to strengthen ties with the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are recognized by most countries as part of Georgia. Russia's decision alarmed Georgia, who called it an attempt to annex the regions.

We request the international community's support in order not to let Russia legalize the de facto annexation of these territories.

—Giorgi Baramidze, Vice-Prime Minister of Georgia

At a meeting with European Union and NATO officials in Brussels, Georgian Vice-Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze said Russia had "crossed the red line" with their decision. "We request the international community's support in order not to let Russia legalize the de facto annexation of these territories," he said.

Russia hopes the efforts to lift sanctions on Georgia will improve relations between the two countries. "We hope that our actions in this direction will be received properly by the leadership of Georgia, from which we expect positive steps in response," the foreign ministry said.

But some Georgian officials are already having doubts regarding the sincerity of Russia's actions. "Russia is trying to create the illusion of a mood of cooperation with Georgia," said Georgian foreign minister David Bakradze. "We are sure that this attempt by the Russian authorities will not lead to the fooling of our American and European friends."

The European Union has urged Russia not to establish ties with the separatist regions and asked both countries to "refrain from any actions that could lead towards the escalation of the situation in the region". United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also criticized Russia's decision. She called her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to express her concern. "We are very concerned at the steps that have been taken and we have made our views known," Rice told reporters.