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Georgia surprised at Putin's comments over energy disruption

TBILISI, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's foreign minister said Tuesday he was surprised by Vladimir Putin's comments regarding the reaction of the Georgian authorities to blasts that put a gas pipeline leading from Russia to Georgia out of action for about a week.

"I personally did not listen to the Russian president's comments, but what I have learned from journalists sounded somewhat strange," Gela Bezhuashvili said. "It is not the tone that should be used between two sovereign states."

At an annual news conference in the Kremlin earlier Tuesday, Putin said that Russia had received nothing but fierce criticism from Georgia at a time when Russian experts were working round-the-clock in freezing temperatures to repair a gas pipeline to Georgia that had been damaged in two explosions on January 22.

The Georgian authorities said Russia had orchestrated the incident - a claim which the Russian Foreign Ministry and energy giant Gazprom have dismissed - and West-leaning President Mikheil Saakshavili urged the world to view Russia as an unreliable energy supplier, saying it had failed to tell the truth about the blasts.

Bilateral relations have since plumbed new depths and when a Georgian journalist asked Putin about the reasons behind the current tension between the two countries, the Russian leader said it was linked with "the ability of individual political figures in Georgia to respond adequately to the situation in the relations."

Putin warned Georgia against pursuing a policy of invective in relation to Russia. He said it did not help improve the status of ordinary Georgians, and the incumbent Georgian authorities, who were brought to power after popular unrest in the winter of 2003, were responsible for this.

However, the president also said the Georgian people were very close to Russia in terms of history and culture. "You know how many Georgians have lived and still live in Russia, and how many Russian and Soviet people contributed to a stronger Russia," he said, adding that this was something that Russia appreciated and remembered.

Georgy Arveladze, the chief of the Georgian president's administration, said Tbilisi had taken Putin's comments as a threat. "Georgia is not a country to be threatened," Arveladze said.

According to Arveladze, "the Georgian leadership and Georgian people are ready to respond adequately to any threats and challenges." He added that the country would defend its rights and national interests to the end.

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