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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

After 3 Months, Envoy to Return to Georgia

Russia's ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, is scheduled to return to Tbilisi on Monday, three months after he was recalled in response to the detention of several Russian military officers on suspicion of espionage.

While the decision suggests an easing of tensions between the two countries, its impact could be dampened by Tbilisi's plan to raise the issue of Russian sanctions against Georgia in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this week.

Kovalenko is expected to fly to Tbilisi via Yerevan, since direct flights between Russia and Georgia remain suspended, Kommersant reported Saturday.

Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's defense committee, sounded a triumphant note in response to the ambassador's return.

"We definitely didn't lose, and this prompted [President Vladimir] Putin's decision," Targamadze told Kommersant in an interview published Saturday. "Russia found that it was the loser. Europeans previously loyal to the Russian leadership have spoken out in our support."

A delegation of Georgian lawmakers arrived in Strasbourg on Sunday to request that the assembly hold a hearing on the sanctions and human rights violations against Georgian citizens, RIA-Novosti reported.

Following the detention of the Russian officers last September, Moscow severed trade and transportation links with Georgia and began to crack down on Georgian-owned businesses. Large numbers of Georgian citizens were deported. Moscow also hinted that it might recognize the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Parliamentary Assembly convenes Tuesday.

"We have found a number of like-minded people [in the assembly], but don't forget that the Russian delegation is made up of 18 people, while we have only five," Yelena Tevtoradze, head of the human rights committee in the Georgian parliament, told RIA-Novosti on Sunday.

"We don't know what the Russian delegates have been doing in preparation for the session," she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that the request for a hearing in Strasbourg was "definitely not a step toward normalizing relations" between Moscow and Tbilisi.

"This should be a two-way street. And in fact President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili have already reached an agreement on the steps that should be taken," he said.

Peskov added that Tbilisi would have to take "certain steps to normalize relations" before Moscow would consider revoking the "measures" imposed against Georgia. He declined to specify what "measures" Moscow might be willing to revoke.

Georgian parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze sounded a less than conciliatory tone Saturday. She told the Novy Region news agency that the return of the Russian ambassador was insufficient, and that she expected Moscow to do more to improve relations.

"First of all, Russia should be unbiased and neutral on a whole range of issues, and primarily with regard to conflicts," Burdzhanadze said, referring to tensions between the government in Tbilisi and the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which enjoy strong Russian backing.

The Kremlin opted to soften its policy toward Georgia following a Jan. 13 meeting of the Security Council, which concluded that sanctions had both failed to undermine the Saakashvili government and decreased Georgia's dependency on Russia.

In response to the sanctions, Georgia has found new markets for its agricultural exports. After Gazprom doubled the price that Georgia pays for gas to $235 per 1,000 cubic meters this year, Tbilisi increased gas imports from Azerbaijan.

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists Friday that Tbilisi would welcome the involvement of the European Union and the United States in resolving the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Bezhuashvili also called on Moscow to stop "provoking the separatist regimes" in these regions by holding out the promise of recognizing their independence.