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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 11:41 GMT
Georgia leader in key Moscow talks

By Damian Grammaticas
BBC Moscow correspondent

President Mikhail Saakashvili at his swearing in Tbilisi
Georgia's new leader wants the Russians out within three years
Russian military bases and the Chechnya conflict are set to top the agenda of talks between Russia's leaders and the new president of Georgia.

Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili arrived in Moscow for the talks just a fortnight after he was inaugurated.

But Russia is likely to be cautious toward the man who led Georgia's bloodless revolution last November.

Mr Saakashvili says he wants his country to become a beacon for change among former Soviet states.

He has foregone use of his presidential jet for the trip, and caught a scheduled flight to save his country money.

It is exactly the sort of gesture that makes Russia wary of him.

He's a young, populist leader who says he wants to bring radical change to the former Soviet Republic that sits on Russia's southern border.

When Mr Saakashvili led Georgia's revolution Russia's leaders looked on unnerved.

New assertiveness

His trip to Moscow is an attempt to tackle Georgia's thorniest relationship head on.

Ties between the two have been strained since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russia has aided separatist movements, leaving Georgia divided and weakened.

Mr Saakashvili wants that to stop and he wants Russia to pull out of two military bases it holds on to on his territory.

Moscow wants guarantees that rebels from Chechnya won't be allowed to move through Georgia, and it's concerned about an ongoing programme under which the United States is training Georgian troops.

Behind Mr Saakashvili's friendly overtures lies a growing sense that Georgia is developing a new assertiveness.

For centuries Russia has dominated and, at times, ruled its tiny neighbour.

Now Mr Saakashvili, with open backing from the US, wants to recast their historic relationship and build closer ties to Europe.

Russia must decide how to deal with him.

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