Russian President Dmitry Medvedev faced tense talks on Friday with Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili amid international concern over Russian support for separatists in Abkhazia, according to AFP.
As the two leaders were to meet at a regional summit in Saint Petersburg, the European Union`s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, was to visit the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia to assess the situation on the ground.
Medvedev`s meeting with Saakashvili was seen as his toughest test yet since coming to office on May 7, the first time he has got closely involved as president in one of the thorniest issues in Russian foreign policy.
"The summit will be a real baptism of fire," also because of expected tough talks with his Ukrainian counterpart and the leaders of energy-rich Central Asian states, the Kommersant daily said.
Saakashvili warned last month that tensions with Russia over Abkhazia, which broke from Georgia in a conflict in the early 1990s and is now backed by the Kremlin, had brought his country close to war.
Ahead of the talks, Saakashvili said he would ask Medvedev to revoke an order signed by his Kremlin predecessor Vladimir Putin in April that aims to boost economic ties between Russia and separatist Abkhazia.
In another move unlikely to please the Russian side, Saakashvili also said he would seek to secure the departure of Russian peacekeepers posted in the region, who are accused by Georgia of supporting the separatists.
"The meeting is important to build personal relations. Putin and Saakashvili just did not get on and the Georgian president wants to get off to a good start," a Russian foreign ministry official was quoted by Kommersant as saying.
But analysts said any progress was unlikely, even though Medvedev called for "constructive cooperation" with Georgia last month, while Saakashvili said he hoped for an end to the "megaphone diplomacy."
"I think the most that Medvedev and Saakashvili can do at the moment is to agree to restore the status quo and to keep that for a while," Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, told Echo of Moscow radio earlier this week.
Behind the conflict over Abkhazia lies Georgia`s bid to join NATO under the pro-Western Saakashvili.
Russian strongly opposes what it regards as NATO encroachment in ex-Soviet countries once under Moscow`s rule.
Medvedev and Saakashvili discussed Abkazia by telephone on Tuesday, with the Russian leader outlining Moscow`s reasons for deploying extra troops at the start of this month, the Kremlin said.
Georgia has also accused Russia of shooting down one of its spy planes over Abkhazia in April, a claim backed up by a UN report. Georgia is also unhappy with a Russian ban on Georgian food imports.
Russia has in turn accused Georgia of preparing to attack rebel Abkhazia.
Medvedev was also due to hold bilateral talks with other leaders at the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics traditionally dominated by Moscow.
Kommersant said his talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko would be "complicated" after the Ukrainian leader called for the Russian navy to move out of the port of Sevastopol in southern Ukraine by 2017.
"Relations with Ukraine are a really big headache and we hope that the first one-on-one meeting between the two presidents will smooth out the situation," Kommersant quoted a Kremlin official as saying ahead of the talks.
Kommersant said the Kremlin was also concerned by the West`s efforts to secure energy imports from Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan, a gas-rich state that relies on Russia for virtually all of its export routes.