Russia expects to restart EU talks this month
Moscow has expressed confidence that talks on a new EU-Russia partnership treaty - temporarily put on ice due to Russia's military presence in Georgia - could be resumed in October.
"We are certainly looking forward to the resumption of negotiations ... I see no reason why this should not happen before the end of this month," Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said on Thursday (2 October).
EU leaders agreed on 1 September to postpone talks on an EU-Russia strategic deal until Russian troops withdraw from Georgia's territory to lines held before the short war over South Ossetia erupted in August.
According to Mr Chizhov, the condition, part of an EU-brokered peace plan, is being "successfully implemented" and all Russian troops will return to previous positions before 10 October.
"There should be no doubt about that," he said. The ambassador confirmed that Moscow is set to keep some 7,600 "regular" troops within South Ossetia and Abkhazia as requested by "the governments of those two independent countries," however.
Russia has recognised the two rebel regions as independent states, with Mr Chizhov advocating their representatives should be present when international community starts debating the future security in the South Caucasus, including Georgian refugees' right of return.
The international talks are to be held in Geneva on 15 October.
"It's obvious for any unbiased observer that without the participation of representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia these discussions will be pointless," Mr Chizhov said.
"I understand that some participants, including the EU, might have problem with recognition, non-recognition," he said, adding that "international practice, including UN practice, over the decade has provided us with numerous precedents of how such an issue can be addressed."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meeting Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in St Petersburg on Thursday, reiterated the EU's stance on the issue when describing Georgia's territorial integrity as "non-negotiable."
But she also poured cold water on the idea that NATO could establish closer ties with the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine during an alliance's ministerial meeting in December.
"The position in favour of membership as soon as possible is not the German position," the Chancellor was cited as saying by AFP, adding that December will see only "an initial evaluation on the road to membership action plans ... no more, no less."
At a parallel meeting in St Petersburg, German energy firm E.ON also announced a major gas deal with Russia's Gazprom, in a sign of warming relations with the EU giant after the Georgia war.
The asset-swap will see E.ON take 25 percent of the Yuzhno-Russkoye field, which is said to hold 600 billion cubic metres of gas - enough to feed the whole of EU demand for over two years.
"The Russian government wanted to give a signal that foreign investors are welcome," an E.ON spokesman told the Financial Times.