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NATO: Georgia Must Improve Ties with Russia Before Entering Alliance

A senior NATO military officer says Georgia must improve relations with Russia and work to resolve its internal conflicts, if it is to gain entry into the Atlantic alliance.

Canadian General Raymond Henault's comments came Tuesday in Moscow, where he met with top Russian military and political officials.

Russian-Georgian relations are expected to be a key topic later this week, when European leaders meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.

Georgia applied for NATO membership after reformist President Mikhail Saakashvili assumed office in 2004.

Tensions between Georgia and Russia increased sharply after the Georgians last month briefly detained four Russian army officers on spy charges. The arrests prompted Moscow to close some Georgian-owned businesses in Moscow, and to begin expelling Georgian nationals from the country.

Georgia, for its part, announced plans to block Russian efforts for Word Trade Organization membership.

Georgia accuses Russian peacekeepers of backing pro-Russian separatists in its two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The areas declared independence after fighting in the early 1990s. Georgia vows to bring both areas back under its control.