* First direct talks on bilateral relations since 2008 war
* Revival of trade on the agenda
* Foes agree to meet regularly
By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI, Dec 15 Russia and Georgia set out a
blueprint for the partial restoration of ties at their first
direct talks about bilateral relations since the former Soviet
republics fought a five-day war in 2008, the Georgian negotiator
said on Saturday.
Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic ties due to the war,
which followed years of tension over Moscow's support for two
rebel regions and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's drive
to bring his nation into NATO, and trade all but dried up.
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition
beat Saakashvili's long-ruling party in an Oct. 1 parliamentary
election, says he wants to mend ties with Moscow while
maintaining warm relations with the United States and Europe.
"We defined those issues that we plan to start negotiations
about: trade, humanitarian and cultural ties and restoration of
regular flights between the two countries," Zurab Abashidze,
Ivanishvili's envoy for relations with Russia, told reporters.
At the meeting on Friday, held in Geneva and mediated by
Switzerland, the countries agreed to continue talks on regular
basis, he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the representatives
"exchanged views on possible ways to normalise relations between
Russian and Georgia in specific spheres."
Georgia is eager to revive trade with Russia, which banned
imports of Georgian wine and mineral water, two of its main
products, as tensions increased two years before the war.
Restoration of diplomatic ties is not yet on the agenda, and
Russia has made clear it will give no ground on the issue of
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions it
recognised as independent nations after the war.
Russian forces crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia
in August 2008 and drove toward Tbilisi, pulling back after a
cease-fire brokered by the European Union. Each accuses the
other of starting the conflict.
Russia and Georgia have held talks in recent years on issues
related to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation and
to the breakaway regions, but not on bilateral ties.