Georgia and Russia are to hold their first direct diplomatic talks since the arch-foes severed ties after the 2008 war over the separatist region of South Ossetia, Georgia's foreign minister says.
Georgian Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili's special representative for Russia, Zurab Abashidze, will meet Russian diplomats 'this week in Europe', Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze told journalists.
'We may not expect any concrete positive outcome from this meeting, but the fact that a first meeting takes place is already positive,' she said.
Georgia and Russia have not had diplomatic relations since the brief 2008 war and the Kremlin refuses to have any dealings with President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Ivanishvili made normalising ties with Russia his foreign policy priority after his Georgian Dream coalition defeated Saakashvili's party in a parliamentary election two months ago.
He has, however, vowed to maintain Saakashvili's pro-Western course and continue Georgia's bid to join NATO and the European Union - an ambition Russia strongly opposes.
On November 1, Ivanishvili appointed the former Georgian ambassador to Russia, Zurab Abashidze, as his special representative for talks with Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday there will be contacts with Abashidze 'in the nearest future', adding that 'something will be clarified at that meeting.'
'We are ready for reasonable steps, those that are motivated by an interest in citizens' lives,' Lavrov said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Panjikidze said that in talks with Moscow, Tbilisi wants to first focus on matters where rapid progress is possible, rather than touching sensitive issues such as Russian policy towards breakaway regions.
'We think it is possible to normalise cultural and trade ties at the initial stage,' Panjikidze told AFP.
The 'informal' meeting may possibly be held in neutral Switzerland, which serves after the war as a point of contact between Russia and Georgia through interests sections in the Swiss embassies in Moscow and Tbilisi, Abashidze told a news conference.
'We are ready for a serious and constructive dialogue with Russia,' Abashidze said.
'We are not putting preconditions for the dialogue and do not expect any from the Russian side.'
Moscow has stationed thousands of troops in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since recognising them as independent after the war - a move that Tbilisi and its Western allies regard as occupation.