Georgia and Russia 'to hold direct talks'

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Bidzina Ivanishvili wants to improve ties with Russia

Georgia has announced plans to hold the first direct talks with Russia since the war in South Ossetia in 2008.

The meeting could take place as early as this week, Georgian officials said.

Re-establishing ties with Russia was one of the main pledges of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was elected in October.

The BBC's Damien McGuinness says both sides appear willing to avoid thorny political issues, and focus on economic and trade relations instead.

Continuing disagreements on the status of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia make it unlikely that full diplomatic ties will be resumed any time soon, he adds.

Moscow says Abkhazia and South Ossetia are independent states, while Georgia sees them as Georgian territory.

Mr Ivanishvili has also said he wants to maintain the pro-Western course set by President Mikheil Saakashvili by joining Nato, a move that Russia strongly opposes.

Mr Saakashvili has stayed on as president after his party was defeated in October by Mr Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream.

Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze told journalists on Monday: "We may not expect any concrete positive outcome from this meeting, but the fact that a first meeting takes place is already positive."

But she also said it might be possible to normalise cultural and trade ties "at the initial stage".

On Sunday, Russia suggested it might resume imports of Georgian agricultural products.

Before the August 2008 conflict Russia was Georgia's biggest trading partner.

The five-day war erupted as Georgia tried to retake control of South Ossetia, following a series of clashes.

Since then, representatives of Russian and Georgia have met regularly for talks mediated by international organisations including the UN and the EU.