French President Nicolas Sarkozy and top executives of the European Union are headed to Russia and Georgia to ensure a ceasefire agreement reached a month ago is met - and to seek a more long-lasting stability in the region. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.
The European mission is traveling a month after clashes erupted between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. The two sides have since signed a peace deal mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy - acting in his country's capacity as the current president of the European Union.
Mr. Sarkozy is on his way back to Moscow - and to Tbilisi later Monday - with the president and foreign policy chief of the European Commission for talks with the Russian and Georgian presidents. Part of their mission is to persuade Russia to fully withdraw hundreds of remaining troops from Georgia. Moscow claims these forces are acting as peacekeepers.
The Europeans also hope to get an agreement to send international observers to the region, and to get a timetable for talks on securing the stability and security of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia. Moscow recently recognized both areas as independent nations, drawing international criticism.
During an EU foreign ministers meeting in Avignon, France, this weekend, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso outlined the stakes of the visit.
"Our basic message to Russia is very clear," said Jose Manuel Barroso. "It is through diplomacy, through dialogue, that Russia can and should defend its legitimate interests."
Barroso also sought to tone down the rhetoric that has been heating up between Russia and the West over the Georgian crisis.
"We are interested in having a constructive relationship with Russia," he said. "It is important to note what we need. We need cool heads. Not a cold war."
In an interview broadcast Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed optimism that President Sarkozy would make progress in Moscow.