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Separatist Tensions Top Georgia Leader's Agenda on Moscow Visit - 2003-12-24

Georgia's interim President Nino Burjanadze has urged Russia to play a more constructive role in its relations with Georgia. Ms. Burjanadze is in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials. It is her first visit to Moscow since the ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze last month.

She says topping her agenda are discussions of separatist tensions in Georgia, especially in two regions which declared themselves independent, allegedly with Russian help.

Ms. Burjanadze said if Russia plays an active and positive role, conflicts can be solved through normal and civilized methods. She also said President Putin's recent statement about the need to maintain Georgia's territorial integrity is a good sign. The two key separatist regions are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which declared their independence after brief, but bloody conflicts with Georgia's forces in the early 1990s. The leaders of both areas have asked to be incorporated into the Russian Federation, something Moscow has declined to do.

Georgia has long accused Russia of providing political and military support to the two areas in order to exert its influence over the volatile Caucasus Mountain region.

Georgia is also suspicious of Russia's perceived support for another separatist region on the Black Sea, Adjaria, which has not openly declared independence, but remains an issue for Tbilisi.

For its part, Russia has been wary of Ms. Burjanadze and presidential front-runner Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the mass protests over a disputed parliamentary election that led to Mr. Shevardnadze's fall.

Moscow also accuses Georgia of providing shelter for Chechen rebels along its porous border with Chechnya.

But Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow hopes to maintain, what it called, natural relations of close partnership with Georgia.