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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Russian envoy to meet Georgian president

TBILISI, Georgia - Russia's newly returned ambassador to Georgia met with the foreign minister on Tuesday, as the two countries moved to improve ties badly strained when Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers it accused of spying.

Ambassador Valery Kovalenko, who was back in Tbilisi four months after Moscow recalled him, said he would present his credentials to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Wednesday.

He said he and Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili discussed conflicts on Georgian territory that have Russia "greatly" worried.

The Georgian leader has tried to resolve lingering conflicts with two breakaway regions, which have cultivated support from Russia, and bring them under control. He frequently accuses Russia of encouraging the separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia recalled its ambassador in September, cut air and other transport links and cracked down on Georgian migrants in Russia amid the spying scandal. Georgia did not recall its envoy to Moscow.

Last week, news that a Russian man allegedly tried to sell highly enriched uranium to Georgian secret services while on their territory threatened to further complicate bilateral relations.

Moscow has watched warily as Saakashvili has sought to pull Georgia out of Russia's orbit and forge closer ties to the West.

Russia's state natural gas monopoly dramatically raised prices for Georgia this year, drawing accusations from Tbilisi that the move was politically motivated.
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