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Seeking Ally, Putin Meets Georgia Opposition Leader

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) with Georgian opposition leader Nino Burjanadze in Moscow on March 4
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has met with a former speaker of Georgia's parliament, his second meeting with a senior opposition figure as Moscow seeks alternatives to Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Moscow has repeatedly said it will not talk to Saakashvili, who it blames for the 2008 war when Russian troops crushed an assault by Georgia on the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Putin is a hate figure for many Georgians.

"Unfortunately there are people in the political leadership of Georgia with whom we could not build relations," Putin told Nino Burjanadze, one of the leaders of Georgia's 2003 'Rose Revolution', which swept Saakashvili to power.

"I hope that with the support of the people who want to have good relations with Russia we will be able to restore relations to a pre-crisis level," he said.

In November, Putin met with Georgia's former prime minister, Zurab Nogaideli, as part of efforts to build ties that bypass Saakashvili. On March 1, Russia and Georgia reopened their only direct border crossing.

Burjanadze, who twice served as an acting president of the Caucasus state, is now in opposition to her former ally Saakashvili but enjoys no significant political support and has little chance of mounting a serious challenge to Saakashvili.

"I would like to hope that it will be possible to find an exit from this dead end," Burjanadze told Putin. A spokeswoman for Saakashvili declined to comment on Burjanadze's visit.