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Russia, Georgia Argue Over Damaged Gas Pipeline

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia and Georgia have blamed each other for delaying repairs to a pipeline that pumps gas to the Georgian rebel region of South Ossetia, focus of a war between the two countries in August.

Winter temperatures drop to below freezing in Tskhinvali, the region's war-wrecked main city, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused ex-Soviet Georgia of dodging its responsibility to restore the town's gas supplies.

"According to our estimates, Georgia could repair the problem very quickly," he told the Russian upper house of parliament.

At talks between Georgian and Russian officials on December 18 in Geneva, an EU moderator said that more needed to be done to improve the lot of people in the conflict zone and specifically that gas supplies needed to be restored in the region.

After Lavrov's statement, a Georgian minister told Reuters the damaged pipeline was located in a village occupied by Russian soldiers.

"If they allow us to enter, we are ready to repair it. But first they must remove their troops. Only then are we ready to consider resuming gas supplies to South Ossetia," Georgian Energy Minister Aleko Khetaguri said.

Russia sent its forces into South Ossetia in August to support the rebels after Georgian forces tried to recapture the breakaway region after months of tension.

After the Russian military pushed Georgian troops out of South Ossetia it drove into Georgia, capturing key road junctions and destroying military equipment before pulling back to within South Ossetia.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said last month that it was considering building a pipeline directly from Russia to South Ossetia.