Putin Saakashvili Spar at CIS Press Conference

TBILISI (Civil Georgia/Interfax)–While speaking at a news briefing in the Kazakh capital–Astana–President Mikhail Saakashvili said that restoration of the railway link between Russia and breakaway Abkhazia was inadmissible–while Russian President Putin said that the reopening of the rail link was agreed with the Georgian side.

Both Presidents were speaking at a joint news briefing of the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) held in Astana on September 16.

Vladimir Putin said the resumption of the Sokhumi-Moscow railway link was agreed during the talks in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 6-7–2003 between him and Georgia’s ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze.

"We agreed over simultaneous return of IDPs to Abkhazia and resumption of the railway link. The return of internally displaced persons is underway. Over 50-60 thousand refugees have already returned to the Gali district [breakaway Abkhazia]," President Putin said.

However–the Georgian President said that those Georgian displaced persons who have already returned to the Gali district of Abkhazia "have no normal conditions to live" as well as no security guarantees.

Saakashvili stressed the importance of resolving the problem of refugees. "Three-hundred thousand Georgian citizens–who are ethnic Georgians–were expelled [from Abkhazia] earlier–and some of them have returned to the Gali district today actually as slaves. They are being subjected to terror," Saakashvili said.

"We are ready to discuss all current issues. Russia can and should play a positive role in settlement of post-Soviet conflicts. It is in Russia’s interests as well," Saakashvili said.

Putin has said he is convinced that all disagreemen’s between Russia and Georgia should be resolved in a way that would meet the interests of all parties concerned.

"An economic blockade–not to mention military pressure–do not result in resolving problems. This is not a road that leads to Church," Putin said–rephrasing a quote from a film by prominent Georgian moviemaker Tengiz Abuladze–which was extremely popular in the USSR in the late 1980s.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have deteriorated as of late. Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze recently described Moscow’s policy towards Georgia as hostile "because Russia is aiding Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists."

Meanwhile–high-ranking Russian officials have repeatedly said Russia favors Georgia’s territorial integrity and called on Tbilisi to settle the problems of relations with Tskhinvali and Sukhumi via a peaceful dialogue.

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