Germany shares Georgian concern over Russian moves in Abkhazia
Germany shares Georgian concerns on Russian activities in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, following a meeting with President Mikhail Saakashvili in Berlin Wednesday.
"We share the concerns about certain Russian steps that have been taken there, reported dpa.
But we encourage Georgia to maintain the peace, because escalating the conflict is certainly not the solution," Merkel said.
"We support the territorial integrity of Georgia," the German chancellor said.
Germany would seek to play an active role in resolving the conflict through negotiation, with Russian participation, she said, but she added the process could not be postponed indefinitely.
Saakashvili held out the hope of an improvement in relations with Russia following the accession as president of Dimitry Medvedev and said his contacts with the new president had been promising.
"I was positively surprised by a more thoughtful approach... than I was used to sometimes in the past from different interlocutors," he said in apparent reference to former president Vladimir Putin, Russia's current prime minister.
In the light of recent events, Saakashvili queried whether Medvedev was in control.
"Is he in charge of the situation? Unfortunately, we don't know," he said.
At the end of May, Russia ordered some 400 railway-repair soldiers into Abkhazia in a move condemned as a breach of the 1994 ceasefire agreement by Georgian officials and Western observers.
Georgia sees their work as preparing the infrastructure for possible large-scale military deployments.
Saakashvili expressed outrage at a recent announcement by the Russian state monopoly Gazprom that it would explore for gas in Abkhazia.
"This is an absolutely outrageous violation of international law and unheard of in recent international practice anywhere," he said
On the question of Georgia's wish to join NATO, Merkel said the outstanding conflicts over Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, had first to be resolved.
Georgia needed clear guidelines on how to proceed to fulfil the criteria for membership, the chancellor said, while adding that Georgia would "one day" be part of the Western alliance.
Saakashvili, a firm proponent of NATO membership for Georgia, despite strong Russian objections, acknowledged that the issue was "complex."
"We are being realistic about it. Georgia needs concrete guidelines, concrete criteria," Saakashvili.
He added that on this point there had been "a very good conversation" with the chancellor.
Merkel said the issue of NATO membership was between the alliance and the applicant and not for a third party to decide.
At its summit in Bucharest in early April, the alliance decided not to offer Georgia and another applicant, Ukraine, a Membership Action Plan (MAP).
Germany was one of the main objectors to offering Georgia a MAP - which is seen as a precursor to full membership talks - citing the territorial problems the country faced.
Merkel said Germany supported Georgia's "dynamic course" over recent years with regard to domestic political and economic reform, but she called for the opposition to be drawn further into the parliamentary process.