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Frosty Russia-Georgia Ties May Improve
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Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Russia's readiness to normalize relations with Georgia, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.

Georgia is a country "which Russia had not just enjoyed special relations for many centuries, but relations of good neighborliness and friendship," Putin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying. Putin received Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who will return to Tbilisi to continue his work.

Kovalenko was appointed ambassador to Georgia last July. In September he was recalled to Moscow for consultations after relations between the two countries broke down as Georgia detained five Russian servicemen on espionage charges.

"Unfortunately in recent years we faced some problems in our relations," Putin said. He also said he agreed with the Georgian president last year on some steps, which are aimed at improving bilateral relations.

"The first significant step was made last December, when we signed an agreement on Russian gas supplies to Georgia. It is important that these supplies will be made according to the market principles," he said. "Russia's role in the settlement of the current conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union is growing... It is also one of the most important directions of our activities."

The Georgian authorities "welcome Moscow's decision on the return of its ambassador to Tbilisi," Koto Gabashvili, chairman of the International Relations Committee of Georgia's parliament, said on Thursday.

"The return of the Russian ambassador to Georgia is a good sign in relations between the two countries. We are fully aware that this does not mean an automatic solution of some problems, but this step may become the vector for normalization of bilateral relations. The Georgian authorities are for normalization and development of relations with Russia, taking into account the interests of both countries," he said.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have dipped after President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in 2003 amidst tensions over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A further cause for conflict has been Georgia's warming relations with the West, including NATO.

The brief detention of four Russian military officers in Georgia on spying charges late in September triggered strong protests from Moscow and fuelled fires on already tense relationship between Russia and Georgia.

During the spying row, Russia slapped economic sanctions on the Caucasus nation and deported Georgians accused of staying in Russia illegally.

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2007)

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