German Chancellor Angela Merkel set off Thursday for a meeting with Russia`s president that is expected to focus on the crisis in Georgia, a day after EU monitors began patrolling Georgian territory.

The meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, between Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev is their fourth this year. It comes at a critical juncture in Russian-EU relations, with relations still fragile after Russia recognized the independence of Georgia`s breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.

Merkel is taking a smaller delegation than usual — with six Cabinet members, including the foreign and finance ministers — to the St. Petersburg meeting, an annual summit of the Russian and German governments, and is staying one day rather than the usual two.

Merkel and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping open lines of communication with Moscow since war in the Caucasus began on Aug. 7, with Georgian troops launching an offensive to regain control of South Ossetia. Russia sent troops, which quickly routed the Georgian military and pushed deep into Georgia.

EU monitors began patrolling Georgian territory Wednesday and Russian troops allowed some of them into a buffer zone around the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

As part of a French-brokered cease-fire deal, Moscow agreed to withdraw its forces completely from areas outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia within 10 days of the monitors` deployment — including from a roughly 4-mile (7-kilometer) buffer zone they have created southward from South Ossetia.

Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia would fulfill its promise to withdraw the troops and said there are no ideological grounds for a new Cold War, or any other kind of war, with the U.S.

This year`s crisis over Georgia came months after a discussions in NATO over whether Georgia and Ukraine should be invited to join the alliance — a move bitterly opposed by Moscow.

The global financial crisis is also expected to play a role in Thursday`s talks, to which Merkel also is taking a small business delegation.

AP via International Herald Tribune