Source AP ©

Russia to give visas to Georgian applicants

Russia will start giving entry visas to some Georgian applicants, easing a suspension imposed last year to punish the ex-Soviet republic during a dispute between the two nations.

Starting Tuesday, the Russian Embassy in Georgia will issue visas to applicants with personal invitations and approval for temporary residence in Russia and those with close relatives who are Russian citizens, embassy official Ivan Volynkin said.

Russia stopped issuing visas, recalled its ambassador, cut air and other transport links with Georgia and launched a crackdown on Georgian migrants in early autumn after Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers accused of spying.

The ambassador returned in January, but air travel has not been restored despite talks on the issue.

Russian consul Valery Vasilyev called the decision to grant some visa requests "a humanitarian measure."

"We have taken into account the appeals of Georgian citizens and the Georgian church," Vasilyev said.

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said Georgia welcomed the decision.

Relations have been strained over Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's efforts to decrease Russian influence and forge close ties with the West. Russia's links with two separatist regions in Georgia have also been an issue of concern in Georgia.

Russia's state natural gas monopoly dramatically raised prices for Georgia this year, drawing accusations from Georgia that the move was politically motivated. Last year, Russia also banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water, two of its main products.

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