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Putin retreats on Georgia threats
( 2002-10-08 11:24 ) (7 )

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Monday that his meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin marked a "turning point" in relations marred by a dispute over the presence of Chechen rebels on the countries' border.

Putin, who had threatened to unleash air strikes on Georgian territory against the rebels, reached agreement Sunday with Shevardnadze to increase cooperation, including joint patrols. The Russian leader said such strikes would not be necessary if the agreement is backed by action.

The two leader met on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau in their first meeting since the dispute erupted.

"This meeting marked the beginning of a turning point in Georgian-Russian relations and will help put them back on a working track," Shevardnadze told reporters upon his return to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

Shevardnadze said the border patrols were in Georgia's interest. He said Security Minister Valery Khaburdzaniya was already in Moscow drawing up plans with Russian officials.

Shevardnadze's optimistic remarks came just hours after border guards said Russia violated Georgia's airspace four times on Monday with helicopter incursions.

A Russian air force spokesman, Col. Alexander Dobryshevsky, denied the report, the news agencies ITAR-Tass and Interfax said.

The violations all came in the mountainous Daryal Gorge region where Georgia and the Russian republic of North Ossetia meet, said border guards spokesman Shalva Londaridze.

He said a helicopter crossed from the Russian side shortly after midnight and performed maneuvers for several minutes, and that a helicopter returned three times during the night and morning.

Georgia has repeatedly complained of airspace violations by Russia, including the claim that Russian aircraft bombed part of the Pankisi Gorge, a region where the Kremlin alleges the rebel bases are located.



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