Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Sergei Lavrov said: "Russia is open to building relations with the Georgian people, because the nation deserves it. But we will not yield to provocations from the [President Mikheil] Saakashvili regime."
The Russian minister also called into question the legitimacy of Saakashvili's government, which swept into power on the back of mass protests that resulted in the overthrow of long-time leader Eduard Shevardnadze.
"I cannot remember the PACE having ever considered how the current regime found itself in power, and this happened in a not quite constitutional way," he said.
Russia's relations with Georgia, which have significantly deteriorated since the U.S.-educated and West-leaning Saakashvili took over the Georgian presidency three years ago, came under further strain last week following the detention of four Russian army officers on espionage charges.
Moscow dismissed the charges as unfounded and said the officers' arrest was as an act of provocation. In an apparent retaliatory measure, it imposed transportation and postal sanctions on its southern neighbor, refusing to drop them even after the apprehended men were released Monday. It is also considering a ban on money transfers to Georgia.
"We have a sincere interest in friendly relations with the Georgian people," Lavrov told the PACE gathering. "Unfortunately, [Georgia's] current regime is obviously enjoying [outside] patronage. I am sure that this support for the anti-Russian line of the Tbilisi regime is the reason why this regime defies all standards of decency and decorum."
Lavrov's statement echoed comments made earlier this week by President Vladimir Putin, who hinted Georgia could not expect its "foreign sponsors" to guarantee its security completely, and warned any third country against encouraging Georgia to pursue a destructive policy against Russia.
Putin's warning was understood to be addressed primarily to the United States, which has provided training for the Georgian army and pledged $10 million to help Tbilisi with its bid to join NATO.
Tbilisi has repeatedly accused Moscow of trying to undermine its independence and encroach on its territorial integrity by supporting separatist regimes in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia provinces. It has urged the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops deployed to monitor ceasefire accords with the breakaway regions, as well as of Russia's Soviet-era military bases.
This past spring, Moscow imposed a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water imports, saying they fall short of Russian food safety regulations. But Tbilisi said the blockade was a reaction to its pro-Western policies and its course toward integration with the European Union and NATO.
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