Europe

Georgia leader warns West not to alienate Russia

PRAGUE (AP) — The president of Georgia, a country carved up by Russian troops in 2008, warned Western countries on Friday against alienating Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Prague, Giorgi Margvelashvili said that could have consequences for the rest of Europe. "I don't think it's a right choice to alienate Russia, to cut relations with Russia," Margvelashvili said. "Because alienating Russia makes Russia even more aggressive, unpredictable and dangerous."

He said diplomats should instead make it clear to Russia "that relations between neighbors or countries around the world aren't built through military interventions." Georgia plans to sign a political association agreement with the 28-nation European Union in June to boost ties and get a free-trade deal and visa-free travel. Moldova is another post-Soviet republic planning to sign a similar agreement.

Ukraine did so on the same day last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed parliamentary legislation annexing Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. Russian forces crushed the Georgian army in a brief 2008 war over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two regions then immediately claimed independence but have been recognized only by Russia and a few of its allies.

Margvelashvili said it was important to convince Russia that "this is not an anti-Russian track." He said his country was not afraid of any retaliation by neighboring Russia for the EU move but added: "We are cautious."

"This is a sovereign decision of our nation and I don't think that anyone has the right to punish either Georgia, or Moldova or Ukraine, for taking sovereign decisions in the 21st century," Margvelashvili told reporters earlier Friday.

Margvelashvili was in Prague for a two-day summit of presidents of post-Soviet nations with their European Union counterparts.

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