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Georgia: Presidents' Meeting Canceled As Georgia Reshuffles Cabinet

There will be no repeat of Saakashvili's meeting with Putin last June (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, July 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today was meant to be the day that Georgia's president attempted to mend his country's crumbling ties with Russia. But that plan was scrapped after Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly refused to make time for Mikheil Saakashvili on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit beginning today in Moscow.

The trip cancellation will give the Georgian leader more time to focus on developments at home. A cabinet reshuffle ejected the man who was Georgia's top negotiator on the separatist conflicts that are at the center of tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow.

Front Man Lost

Giorgi Khaindrava, who was removed from his post as state minister for conflict resolution, was the top official dealing with Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As such, he was often the frontman in negotiations with Moscow, which has supplied both Russian passports and peacekeepers to the regions, much to Tbilisi's chagrin.

No official explanation has been offered for his removal. Khaindrava today dismissed speculation that he deviated from Saakashvili's aims in his talks on resolving the separatist conflicts.

"Of course I will be interested in what the motivation [for this decision] is, because I think, and I would like to reiterate, that I never, ever, not for a single second, not a single time, have left the course, the peace policy, that we were commissioned with by the president," Khaindrava said.

But Khaindrava came under criticism earlier this week for his comments on the recent detention of Russian negotiators in South Ossetia by Georgian military police.

Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili on July 20 assailed Khaindrava for breaking with the official line in describing the detention as "an irresponsible act" and a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Eduard Kokoity, the president of the breakaway government of South Ossetia, told RFE/RL today that Khaindrava's dismissal is a setback for the peace process.

"Of course, this will have a big impact on the future negotiation process, and the situation is quite difficult now," Kokoity said. "All of this is taking place in the context of withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers [demanded by the Georgian parliament]. In other words, Georgia is implementing its plan to further escalate tensions not only in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict zone, but also in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone."

Defensive Position

Khaindrava today defended his statement, saying that "the main thing is that the Vienna Convention is a principle of the utmost importance in diplomatic relations. Even during time of war, the one possibility that the sides are able to maintain dialogue is the inviolability of diplomats.

"In contrast to Irakli Okruashvili, I and my colleagues and fellow workers from many other departments are regular visitors to the conflict zone, as well as to Russia," he added. "If this principle is destroyed, the lives of all of us will be put in danger and that is completely unacceptable."

Khaindrava's ouster comes just days after the Georgian parliament passed a resolution calling for the removal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia accuses Russia of backing the unrecognized regimes in Tskhinvali and Sukhum(i).

Russia, in turn, has echoed the separatist concern that Georgia is looking to use force to reclaim the regions, particularly South Ossetia.

Saakashvili had hoped to discuss the Ossetia issue with Putin today.

But parliamentarian Giga Bokeria of Georgia's ruling United National Movement told reporters that Putin refused to meet with Saakashvili on the sidelines of the two-day CIS summit in Moscow.

Rising Tensions

The cancellation is the latest volley in a week that has seen tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi rise even higher.

Tbilisi on July 20 objected to the visit to Sukhum(i) by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, saying it had not been approved by Georgian officials.

Officials also suggested they fear Russian military exercises along the Georgian border are a prelude to a bona fide military campaign.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov defended the exercises, which are officially meant to prepare forces to assist Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the event of unrest there.

His comments, from a Georgian perspective, were less than reassuring.

"The probability of such an unfavorable scenario of events is very, very probable," Ivanov said. "I have already talked about it many times. So we constantly keep an eye on the situation both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia."

Earlier today, Russian media reports said authorities in South Ossetia had detained a man who admitted to preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the unrecognized republic at the instruction of Georgian secret services.

Russian television showed video from the unidentified man's alleged confession.

(compiled from agency reports)

Universal Principles?

Universal Principles?

President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)


Putin Calls For 'Universal Principles' To Settle Frozen Conflicts

Russia Key To OSCE's Attempts To Resolve Frozen Conflicts

Georgia Pushes For EU Backing In Standoffs With Russia


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