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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Georgia Call for a Timeout

ReutersPresident Vladimir Putin meeting with four presidents ahead of their talks at the CIS summit in Chisinau, Moldova, on Monday.
CHISINAU, Moldova -- President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze have called a timeout in a venomous dispute over alleged Georgian aid to Chechen rebels.

Putin said he had received a pledge that Georgia would no longer hold up extradition of a group of Chechens who are wanted in Russia, and the two agreed that their border guards should increase cooperation, up to joint patrols, to prevent rebel incursions.

Asked Monday if Russia was still planning to unleash its own airstrikes on Georgian territory as Putin had threatened in September, the president said, "Those declarations, I hope, will not be realized if yesterday's agreement with the Georgian president is put into practice."

"There are no obstacles to putting into practice what we agreed," he said.

Sunday's meeting between the two leaders was their first since a war of words broke out this summer over the presence of Chechen rebels and other militants in northern Georgia, on the Russian border. The quarrel, years in the making, came to a head after a group of dozens of alleged Chechen rebels broke through the border and battled Russian border guards, killing eight.

Putin and his subordinates had threatened the strikes, saying that Russia had a right to act in self-defense. But Shevardnadze's aides accused Moscow of using the anti-terrorist campaign as a ruse to destabilize its southern neighbor.

Putin and Shevardnadze met during bilateral talks on the eve of a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moldova. He also met privately with six other CIS presidents.

On Monday, the leaders met to agree on ways to improve joint crime-fighting, including strengthening borders and combating the illegal drug trade. The meeting was also expected to hammer out a common position on Iraq and consider the creation of an anti-terrorist center in Central Asia.

While it is nominally a group of equals, the 11-year-old commonwealth is also an instrument of Russian policy in the former Soviet region.

Moscow is working particularly to win back influence in Central Asia, where the United States has stationed troops as part of the anti-terrorist campaign and significantly increased economic aid.

Itar-Tass reported that Russia is seeking agreement to a policy of no direct or indirect involvement by commonwealth states in a possible U.S.-led military operation against Iraq.

The few hours of formal meetings Monday were capped by a visit to the Cricova wine cellars in the outskirts of Chisinau.

 Russia violated Georgia's airspace four times on Monday with helicopter incursions over the countries' tense border, the Georgian Border Guard Service said.

A Russian air force spokesman, Colonel Alexander Dobryshevsky, denied the report.

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

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.