Georgia indicated on Monday it would put on hold moves to pressure Russia into withdrawing its two military bases as hopes emerged that the two countries could settle the dispute.
Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili hinted that the ex-Soviet republic does not want to escalate problems with Moscow by enacting sanctions against Russian troops in the two Soviet-era military bases.
"We want to act in the most liberal way and refrain from escalating the situation so that the negotiating process would yield an agreement," Okruashvili told reporters. The sanctions could include declaring the bases "outside the law," denying visas to Russian military personnel and hindering transport to the bases.
Georgian lawmakers had proposed that the sanctions be put into effect on Monday. Russian officials have said they need at least four years to complete the withdrawal, and possibly several more, while Georgian officials want the bases out by January 2008.
The bases, left over from the time when both Russia and Georgia were republics of the Soviet Union, have become a source of growing animosity as Georgia's new pro-Western government tries to shake off Russian influence. Russian officials have said they need at least four years to complete the withdrawal, and possibly several more, while Georgian officials want the bases out by January 2008.
The dispute has reached new heights recently, with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili boycotting last week's lavish VE Day celebrations in Moscow and U.S. President George W. Bush raising the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But some progress was in sight late last week, with Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili saying Russia had made interesting new suggestions that brought the sides closer to an agreement.
Zurabishvili is expected to discuss the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of a Council of Europe gathering in Poland on Monday and Tuesday. Georgia's Parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze is also expected to give a news conference on the bases later Monday.
On the photo: Irakli Okruashvili