Georgia ready to make a deal with Russia on S. Ossetia - paper

Georgia Materials 25 June 2007 13:18 (UTC +04:00)

( RIA Novosti ) - Georgia could make sweeping concessions to Russia if Moscow stops supporting the breakaway region of South Ossetia on its territory, a leading Russian daily said Monday.

According to the Kommersant business daily, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at the Black Sea economic summit in Turkey on Monday to discuss the settlement of a protracted Georgian-S.Ossetian conflict.

Bezhuashvili said last week Tbilisi had "a number of serious and interesting proposals for Russia," in exchange for Moscow's promise to break off all contacts with the unrecognized government of South Ossetia, led by Eduard Kokoity, and to deal in the future only with Georgia-supported provisional administration, headed by Dmitry Sanakoyev.

Sanakoyev, the winner of an "alternative" presidential election in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, was inaugurated by Georgian authorities in the conflict zone last December.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia following a bloody conflict in the early 1990s. Georgia's Western-oriented leaders, who came to power in 2003, have been trying to bring the republic under their control since.

Russia has supported South Ossetia in its diplomatic standoff with Georgia, and Tbilisi has accused Moscow of fuelling separatist sentiments in the unrecognized republic.

The outspoken Georgian leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, said last week the south Caucasus state would regain control of South Ossetia, one of two breakaway regions on its territory, in the next few months.

"[South Ossetian President Eduard] Kokoity's tenure is expiring, and we will finally resolve all problems in the next few months, demonstrating to the world how ethnic conflicts should be tackled," Saakashvili said at a GUAM summit of four ex-Soviet countries, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

A Georgian government source told Kommersant that stripping Kokoity's government of Russia's economic and political support was central to Tbilisi's plan to regain control of the separatist region.

The source said if Russia accepted the proposals, Tbilisi would allow Moscow to assume the role of official guarantor in future agreements on granting South Ossetia broad autonomy within Georgia.

"We are even ready to officially recognize the presence of Russian troops on our territory for an indefinite period and lift all obstacles to Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization," Kommersant quoted the source as saying.

Georgia earlier said it would cease to block Russia's bid to join the WTO only after Moscow honors its 2004 commitment to close down its border checkpoints with Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.