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Europe

Merkel to Push for Lasting Peace Between Russia, Georgia

German Chancellor Merkel is to meet Russian President Medvedev Friday and visit Tbilisi next week for talks with President Saakashvili on forging a long-lasting peace between Georgia and Russia after a bloody conflict.

Ruins of a building in the Georgian city Gori

Merkel wants a long-term end to the fighting that has destroyed parts of Georgia

Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Wednesday, Aug. 13, Merkel's spokesman Thomas Steg said the chancellor will bring a stern message to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday in Sochi on the conflict over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

The chancellor believes it is "totally unacceptable" for "the legitimacy of the democratically elected government of Georgia to be called into question," Steg told a news conference.

Merkel also believes strongly that Georgia's "sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia are non-negotiable," Steg said.

She will "make it clear" to Medvedev at the meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, near the disputed Abkhazia province, that problems in the Caucasus "cannot be solved militarily," Steg added.

International observers

Medvedev standing next to Merkel

Merkel promised to push for peaceful conflict resolution with Medvedev

Merkel's visit comes amid a flurry of diplomacy in the European Union to cement the French-brokered ceasefire.

On Wednesday, France led calls to send in international monitors into the two separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was prepared to contribute to peacekeeping arrangements in Georgia's two breakaway regions and to help organize peace talks.

"The UN stands ready to facilitate international discussions as well as to contribute to possible peacekeeping or other arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Ban said in a statement.

The EU proposal to send European peacekeepers to the Caucasus region has received a mixed response in the 27-member bloc. Some nations have said international peacekeepers would have more credibility in the volatile region while others have called for a rethink of the EU's ties with Russia and a stronger condemnation of Moscow's military offensive against Georgia.

Avoiding blame game

The issue highlights a growing divide in the bloc over how best to handle ties with Russia.

Moscow's St. Basil Cathedral

Divisions are emerging within the EU over the best way to handle the Kremlin

Steg said it was natural for France, which holds the EU's presidency, to take the lead in brokering a ceasefire but said Merkel warned against any hasty assigning of blame for the violent clashes that broke out between Russia and Georgia last week.

"The chancellor is firmly convinced that this is not the time for looking into motives, for allocating blame, for denouncing anyone or for making final judgments," Steg said.

Germany, which is highly dependant on Russian energy supplies, has been hesitant to blame Moscow for the conflict with Russia. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also told reporters on Wednesday that the EU is best served when it communicates with Russia.

It would be better and more effective to "keep channels to Moscow and Tbilisi open" than to make "strong statements and one-sided condemnations," Steinmeier said at an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Politician wants "privileged partnership" with Moscow

But Merkel's determination to be tough with Russian leader Medvedev on his country's military response in Georgia was at odds with the views of a veteran member of Merkel's own conservative party who said the EU should press ahead with efforts to bind Russia to the bloc.

In an interview with news agency Reuters on Wednesday, Ruprecht Polenz, head of the foreign policy committee of the German parliament, said the EU should consider offering Moscow a "privileged partnership" if it shows a willingness to adopt European values.

"I think the EU should make Russia a very clear proposal with clearly stated expectations in order to positively influence Russia's future behavior," Polenz, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said.

Polenz said it would be a mistake to scrap ongoing partnership talks with Russia because of its violent conflict with Georgia.

He did not spell out what such a partnership should look like but Polenz told Reuters it should be a "far-reaching" agreement contingent on Russia initiating reforms in the areas of justice, human rights and political values.

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