Source Pravda.Ru

Russian, Georgian officials discuss restoration of air links

Russian and Georgian officials held talks Monday on the possibility of restoring air travel between their countries, which Moscow suspended last year during a crisis in bilateral ties, officials said.

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

Both nations have said relations must be improved, and President Vladimir Putin sent the Russian ambassador back to Georgia last month.

The two-day talks in Moscow between Georgian and Russian transport officials are intended to re-establish air links, said Andrei Pryanishnikov, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Air Navigation Service.

He said that Russia wants Georgia to pay off its debt for navigation services provided to its planes in Russia as a condition for restoring regular flights. He voiced optimism that an agreement could be reached. "We need to re-establish ties," he said.

Pryanishnikov told The Associated Press that the debt amounted to 3.5 million rubles (US$135,000; Ђ104,000). He voiced optimism that an agreement could be reached. "We need to re-establish ties," he said.

Relations between the two ex-Soviet republics have been strained over Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's efforts to decrease Russian influence and forge close ties with the West, reports AP.

Saakashvili, elected in 2004, wants Georgia to join NATO in 2008 and has vowed to draw rebel provinces that have Russian support back into the fold a course that has angered Moscow.

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.