April 18th, 2008 13:17 EST
Georgia gets Putin's attention
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered officials to take steps to improve ties with Georgia and lift some of the economic sanctions imposed on that country.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement announced the action just two days after Moscow angered the Georgian government by announcing plans to establish closer links with two of Georgia's breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The Russian statement mentioned a renewal of postal links and the lifting of some visa restrictions for Georgian citizens. Moscow cut postal ties and imposed the restrictions in 2006 after Georgian officials in Tbilisi arrested and briefly held four Russian military officers on charges of spying.
Tensions between the two counties increased Wednesday when Mr. Putin instructed officials to "cooperate with the de-facto authorities" in the two breakaway areas.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili Thursday called on Russia to halt all actions that violate Georgia's sovereignty.
The United Nations Security Council is to meet next week at Georgia's request to consider the issue.
U.S., NATO and European Union officials have backed Georgia on the issue. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she raised the issue in a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and stressed U.S. commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence in the early 1990s, prompting fighting. Russian peacekeepers are now deployed there.
Russia did not suggest that it is planning to recognize independence declarations in either area. But the Russian parliament passed a resolution last month recommending the Kremlin recognize their independence if Georgia joins NATO.
Georgia has repeatedly accused the Russian peacekeepers of supporting the separatists and vows to bring both areas back under central government control.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.