Russia, France put aside Georgia war differences

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia and France put aside disagreements over the August war in Georgia in a move to promote bi-lateral relations, especially in key energy projects.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks with his French counterpart Francois Fillon after a signing ceremony in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi September 20, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool

“We will conduct with Russia a direct and tight dialogue of true partners,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said, opening a regular meeting of an inter-government commission in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The final document of the meeting said the two countries will focus on developing relations in high tech, energy and space sectors, including cooperation in developing the Shtokman gas field and a joint project to launch Soyuz space crafts from a French launching pad.

“Differences happen, indeed, but they should be resolved through a dialogue,” he told the gathering of government officials and businessmen co-chaired by powerful Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Fillon flew to Sochi at a time when the European Union is reviewing ties with Russia. The EU condemned Moscow’s intervention in Georgia, launched last month to crush Tbilisi’s attempt to retake two pro-Moscow regions.

EU members are split over how to handle relations with its biggest energy supplier and a major trading partner. They stopped short of imposing sanctions against Russia, but suspended talks on a new treaty regulating their relations.

“We wanted this meeting to take place at the original time because it’s very important to strengthen the partnership between the European Union and Russia, and France and Russia,” Fillon told Putin at their first meeting late on Friday.

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Fillon’s remarks highlighted the differences within the EU -- some members like France, Germany and Italy, urge caution in handling Russia, while others, mainly former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, want tougher action.

Analysts say the new rift with the West over Georgia have scared investors, adding to Moscow’s financial woes in the face of recent global stock market turmoil.

Putin said relations with France were not affected by the Georgian crisis.

“I believe the events in the Caucasus did not affect our cooperation in any way,” he said.

Not a single project has been put off or suspended between France and Russia in the wake of the Georgia conflict.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency in the European Union, mediated the deal which ended the war in Georgia.

Under it, Russia agreed to withdraw troops from undisputed Georgian territories in October after 200 EU monitors -- more than 40 of them from France -- arrive in the Caucasus country.

Russia, which has recognized the independence of Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, said it will set up military bases there and told the West to negotiate the presence of international monitors with their leaders.

Fillon told Putin at their meeting on Friday that Sarkozy was satisfied the provisions of the agreement were being carried out. He said this was a clue to restarting the talks on a new EU-Russia deal.

“The EU position is clear: we hope the talks will resume as soon as provisions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan are carried out,” he said. “There are no reasons not to resume talks early next month.”

De-blocking talks with EU is important in Russia’s attempts to resist calls by the United States, Georgia’s main backer, to form a united front with the EU to put joint pressure on Moscow.

Editing by Matthew Jones