Putin courts Georgia, accuses West of Cold War-style 'containment'

Mon Feb 10, 2014 1:46pm EST
 
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By Alexei Anishchuk

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations to Russia's 2008 war foe Georgia on Monday but had tougher words for the West, saying criticism of the Sochi Olympics was part of a Cold War-style "containment" effort.

Putin used a televised meeting in Sochi to court Georgia, which is trying to balance pro-Western policies with a cautious warming toward Moscow, and to dismiss Western criticism of the Olympics as a doomed attempt to hold his country back.

"The Olympics are playing a positive role" in relations between the two ex-Soviet republics, Putin said, emphasizing that he believes flights set up between Sochi and the Georgian capital Tbilisi should continue after the Games.

He held out a prospect of the first face-to-face talks with Georgia's president since the five-day war in 2008, saying: "If he wants to, why not?"

Georgia had considered boycotting the Games but ended up sending athletes and members of its national Olympic Committee, part of a tentative thaw since pro-Western former president Mikheil Saakashvili's party lost control of parliament in 2012.

Moscow blamed U.S. ally Saakashvili for the war and recognized the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after the conflict.

Ties remain tense. Georgia fumed when Russia, citing Olympic security concerns, last month shifted its border posts 11 km (7 miles) deeper into Abkhazia, whose borders lie just a few kilometers from the main site of the competition.

TIPTOEING TOWARD MEETING   Continued...

 
Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the Public Council for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games preparation and organization in Sochi, February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin