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Russia Hopes to Restore Trust with Georgia

Russia urged Georgia's new administration, to be formed after the imminent presidential campaign, to make practical efforts to restore bilateral trust marred by actions of the previous Georgian regime, a source from the Kremlin said Thursday.

Russia will continue to pursue the development of partnership with Georgia, with which it maintains "centuries-long ties of friendship," said the source after the Thursday talks here between acting Georgian President Nino Burdzhanadze and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The two-hour closed-door meeting "addressed how to eliminate negative elements in the bilateral relations and make the cooperation more dynamic to fully meet the interests of the people of both countries," the source stated.

Putin emphasized that Russia wants Georgia to be a strong, independent and self-sufficient state and better relations between the two countries would promote "stability and an atmosphere of constructive cooperation" in the Caucasus region that accommodates Russia, Georgia and some other former Soviet republics.

The leaders also discussed prospects for trade and economic cooperation, visa issues between Russia and Georgia and the future of Russia's military base in Georgia, the source said.

Burdzhanadze, who arrived here Wednesday for a working visit, raised the issue of its breakaway region of Abkhazia at the meeting, emphasizing that it is part of Georgia's territory.

Pointing out that Abkhazia was a stumbling block in Russian-Georgian relations, the interim Georgian leader also promised that the new administration will not "twist Abkhazia's arm" and welcomed Russia's help in resolving the dispute between Abkhazia and Georgia.

Russia has been insisting that the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict should be resolved by peaceful and political means and imposing pressure on the region would only aggravate the difficult situation there.

Relations between the two neighboring countries have been soured by a number of problems. Russia has accused Georgia of sheltering Chechen rebels in its lawless Pankisi gorge region, which borders the breakaway Russian republic while Georgia has been annoyed by Russia's support to its three restive regions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adjara. Withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia has been another thorny issue in the bilateral ties.

Winding up her first official visit to Russia since the fall of the regime of former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze in late November, Burdzhanadze commented that the "open, trusting and sincere" talk on Thursday with Putin was a "breakthrough" in Russian-Georgian relations.

The Georgian leader also met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov during her two-day tour in Moscow.

(Xinhua News Agency December 26, 2003)

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