Russia hopes the new Georgian government will improve its relations with its neighbors, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but any talks on changing their status are out of the question, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
“We hope the changes [in Georgia] will enable the new Georgian government to improve the country's relations with all its neighbors, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We will not engage in any talks on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia or any other country, as these republics have decided their own fates,” he added.
Lavrov's comments come a day after Foreign Minister designate Maya Panjikidze said on Monday the new Georgian government would implement a plan to improve relations with Moscow, while maintaining its policy of pro-Western orientation.
“There is a specific plan and idea on how to improve relations with Russia,” Panjikidze said. The aim of the Georgian Foreign Ministry is “to improve relations with Russia thus reestablish territorial integrity of the country,” she said.
Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been persistently blighted since Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 over the issue of Tbilisi's relations with its breakaway regions. Tbilisi has accused Moscow of fomenting separatism in South Ossetia and Abkhazia to undermine its independence from Moscow. Russia has previously accused Tbilisi of ignoring the aspirations of national minorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Both republics already enjoyed an element of independence from Tbilisi after Georgia was wracked by civil war and separatist conflict in the early 1990's, but neither have gained widespread international recognition and Georgia regards them as breakaway territories.
The already strained relations between Georgia and Russia plunged to an all-time low during the reign of President Mikheil Saakashvili, culminating in a five-day conflict in August 2008 over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Georgia suffered a humiliating defeat, and the de facto loss of one-fifth of its territory, after Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia.
Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the Georgian Dream coalition which won the nation's October 1 parliamentary elections, said on Tuesday after meeting President Mikheil Saakashvili that their views on EU integration and NATO membership for their country coincide. The meeting between Saakashvili and Ivanishvili was part of a peaceful transition of power after the parliamentary elections, which“showed that we are cultured nation,” Ivanishvili said afterwards.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday the Alliance would move toward closer cooperation with Georgia and intended to strengthen its relations with Tbilisi.
Moscow has consistently opposed NATO membership for Georgia, saying it could lead to a new war in the region. Speaking after the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels Last December, Lavrov said he had warned NATO foreign ministers against “pushing the current Georgian regime towards a repetition of their August 2008 gamble.”