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Germany's Merkel Set To Visit Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan


German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at her annual summer news conference in Berlin on July 20.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to visit the Caucasus states of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan following her meetings outside of Berlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on August 17 that Merkel will begin the Caucasus trip with a stop in Georgia on August 23.

She will then proceed to Armenia and finally to Azerbaijan, he added.

The trip will come after Merkel is scheduled to meet with Putin at the German government's guest house outside Berlin on August 18.

Pro-Western Georgia has aspirations of joining the European Union and NATO as protection against Russian aggression.

Georgia fought brief a war with Russia 10 years ago, and Moscow's continued military presence on the country's territory adds to tensions in the region.

The conflict, which Tbilisi and Moscow accuse one another of starting, left hundreds dead and drove thousands from their homes.

After the war, Russia left thousands of troops in South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, and recognized both as independent countries.

Last month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated support for Georgia's membership at a meeting in Brussels, but he did not provide a time frame.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a stern warning to NATO that Georgia's joining the Western military alliance could lead to a "horrible" new conflict.

Merkel's stops in Yerevan and Baku are likely to take up topics such as Azerbaijan's energy resources and efforts to secure deals to maintain supplies to Europe and the often-bloody dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh between the two neighbors.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked for years in hostilities over the Azerbaijani territory that was seized by Armenian-backed forces during a war that killed more than 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire.

Sporadic fighting continues and three decades of diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, whose claim to independence has not been recognized by any country, have brought little progress.

Merkel's visit to Yerevan will also allow the German leader to meet with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the former anticorruption campaigner and opposition politician who was elected to the premiership in May after weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism.

With reporting by dpa, Vestnik Kavkaza, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service
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