Russia, Georgia agree to reopen direct airline flights

Georgia Materials 21 February 2008 22:11 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Russia and Georgia have agreed to reopen direct flights, lifting a nearly 16-month embargo, the Russian Ministry of Transportation said Thursday.

The agreement wrapped up bilateral talks began between officials of both states in Moscow last month, marking a thaw in antagonistic relations over the past two-years.

Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Georgian leader Michael Saakashvili said: "We expect, if to not begin on clean page, at least to give a new impetuous to our relations."

Saakashvili invited Putin to visit Georgia in a sign of warming relations that could hail a Russian ban on the country's wine and water exports.

Putin said Russia had "paid attention to the Georgian leadership adjustments in attitudes toward Russia."

"We shall try to answer in kind," he said during an informal meeting of the leaders of CIS states in Moscow Thursday.

Travellers between Moscow and Tbilisi have had no option of flying directly since Russia imposed sanctions on Georgia in October 2006.

The Kremlin has been accused of using trade embargoes to exert political pressure on post-Soviet states and a raft of problems remain unresolved between Moscow and its post-soviet neighbour.

Saakashvili, who came to power during the so-called Rose Revolutions in 2003, has taken a firmly pro-Western course advocating Georgia's acession to NATO and the European Union.

Georgia accused Moscow of imposing trade bans as political retribution for its pro-Western leanings and apparent reluctance to endorse Russia's application for World Trade Organization membership.

Kosovo's declaration of Independence Sunday is also particularly expected to aggravate tensions in Georgia's two breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which both receive aid from Russia.