Putin warns Georgian Prez on NATO membership

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Moscow, Feb 22: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili of potential damage to bilateral relations if the former Soviet republic joins NATO.

The two leaders held talks at Putin's presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow, last night. ''The issue of NATO expansion was touched upon. President Vladimir Putin confirmed Russia's firm position that we do not see any real reasons for this process and explained in detail what consequences it may have, including for Russian-Georgian relations,'' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists after the talks.

Georgia, handed a letter from President Saakashvili to NATO on February 14 for the country to be accepted as a member of the NATO.

Mr Lavrov said President Putin also told President Saakashvili that Georgia should comply with existing agreements on its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

''President Vladimir Putin clearly indicated the conditions normalising Russian-Georgian relations. He specifically stressed the need to strictly implement all available agreements on the settlement of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts with full account for the parties' interests,'' Mr Lavrov said.

''At his meeting with the Georgian President, President Putin specified conditions for improving bilateral relations,'' the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed.

Georgian President Saakashvili invited Mr Putin to visit Georgia if he becomes Russian Prime Minister after presidential elections in Russia on March 2.


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