Putin warns Georgia against looking for enemies

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BAKU, February 22 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian president Wednesday warned Georgia against blaming external forces for its economic woes, but said he hoped common sense would prevail.

"As far as Russian-Georgian relations are concerned, it's a great shame. It's a great shame for Georgians," Vladimir Putin told a news conference in Baku, the capital of neighboring Azerbaijan.

He added that during the Soviet era, living standards in Georgia had been among the highest in the USSR.

Today, however, "the living standards are extremely low," he said.

"This destabilizes the situation not only in the country, but in the region as a whole... If anyone thinks that such issues can be dealt with by diverting the public's attention to a search for external enemies, they are taking the wrong approach. Attention could be distracted for a while, but economic problems will have to be solved all the same, and it is better to do this through dialogue and constructive cooperation with neighbors."

He said that despite all the difficulties, "we are optimistic. The problems inherited from the former Soviet Union are complex but not insurmountable. We are ready to work together."

The president stressed the importance of finding compromises.

"It is a tortuous process, but there is no other way of resolving the problems."

At the same time, "there are forces in Georgia, including within the Georgian leadership, that are committed to developing relations with Russia."

Putin said he meant, among others, President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgian-Russian relations have deteriorated since the beginning of the year, with a scandal over energy supplies to Georgia, and the ongoing dispute over the presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

In late January, two blasts on pipelines running through southern Russia cut gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia and an explosion hit a high-power electricity transmission tower near the city of Karachayevsk in Russia's North Caucasus, causing blackouts in much of the country; this triggered an irate response from the Georgian authorities, who claimed Russia had orchestrated the attacks.

Georgia's pro-Western leadership has repeatedly accused Moscow of siding with South Ossetian separatists and supplying them with arms. The president has repeatedly vowed to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway republic, back under Georgia's control.

The situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone deteriorated further when the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution, demanding the expulsion of the Russian troops from the region and the deployment of an international contingent there.

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