Georgia Flights May Start Soon

Georgia and Russia will discuss restarting direct flights in the next few days, the Foreign Ministry said Friday, in an indication of an end to a nearly 16-month ban.

Officials from the two countries met in Moscow on Friday to discuss bilateral ties, which have been improving since both countries adopted a more conciliatory tone this year after relations dropped to a low in 2006 and 2007.

"Meaningful talks on flights between the two countries will be held in the next few days," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Pressing questions in bilateral relations were discussed in detail. ... Certain headway was made on some of them."

Travelers flying between Moscow and Tbilisi have had to route via another city -- mainly Kiev, Baku or Istanbul -- since October 2006, when Moscow severed transportation and economic links after Georgia arrested a handful of suspected Russian spies.

Both sides have traded angry words since then -- especially over the status of Georgia's two breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which both receive tacit support from Moscow.

But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said after winning re-election in January that he wanted to mend ties between Tbilisi and Moscow, triggering a flurry of friendlier statements.

Georgia's foreign minister, Davit Bakradze, expressed hope last Monday that the embargo on travel and trade could end as early as this month.

"Let me be very cautiously optimistic, but we're close to that. And I do hope that it may even happen in February," Bakradze said.

He said a recent flurry of negotiations between the two sides had been increasingly productive.

The Russian Foreign Ministry had no comment on Bakradze's remarks at the time.

Saakashvili swept to power in former-Soviet Georgia in 2003 in a peaceful revolution and has steered the country in a firmly Western direction, looking to join both NATO and the European Union.

Reuters, MT