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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Diplomat Seeks to Ease Strain

Russia's newly returned ambassador to Georgia said late Tuesday that Moscow wanted to normalize strained ties between the two countries.

"It is very much in Russia's interests that relations with Georgia should normalize and good-neighborly relations should be established," Interfax quoted Vyacheslav Kovalenko as saying in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Russia has not restored air and other transport links to Georgia that it cut in September, so the ambassador was forced to return after a four-month absence via neighboring Armenia.

President Vladimir Putin ordered Kovalenko to return to Georgia last week, signaling a new effort to improve ties that were badly strained after Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers it accused of spying.

Moscow, which has watched with concern as its small southern neighbor has allied itself with the United States and sought NATO membership, retaliated with an economic and transport blockade and a crackdown on Georgian migrants in Russia. It also recalled its ambassador.

Kovalenko denied any anti-Georgian mood in Russia, responding to media reports of the death of a Georgian citizen in Moscow after an attack by a group of assailants. "There is no 'Georgiaphobia'" in Russia, he said, adding that the Georgian's death was "apparently an accident."

The 46-year-old Georgian was found dead Monday with multiple knife wounds, RIA-Novosti reported.