Tbilisi seeks to warm ties with Moscow over visa move

Tbilisi seeks to warm ties with Moscow over visa move

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Feb. 28 offered visa-free travel to Russians as a gesture to improve relations with Moscow but stressed he wanted Russia’s troops out of his country.

During his annual keynote address to the Georgian parliament, pro-Western Saakashvili said that his administration was ready for peaceful ties with Russia after the two neighbors fought a war in 2008.
“We are ready to give peace an even greater chance and are making an initiative to unilaterally cancel the visa regime with Russia,” Saakashvili said. Saakashvili also said that Georgia’s aspirations to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union remained firmly in place.

The Kremlin has refused to have any contact with Saakashvili since Russia crushed an assault by Georgia’s military on the Russian-backed rebel region of South Ossetia in August 2008. Saakashvili cited the signing of a deal with Moscow in November which opened the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization as another Georgian gesture aimed at improving relations.

But he said that he would continue to struggle for “de-occupation” -- the withdrawal of Russian forces which have been permanently stationed in two Georgian breakaway provinces since the 2008 war. Genuine peace would only be possible with “a Russia which recognizes and complies with all internationally accepted norms of relations between sovereign states,” he said.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.