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Georgian flight to Russia first since 2008 war

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MOSCOW (AP) — A Georgian passenger plane landed in Moscow on Friday in the first direct air service between Russia and Georgia since their August 2008 conflict — a sign that tensions may be easing between the former Soviet allies.

The chartered Georgia Airways Boeing 737-500 carrying 85 passengers took off from Tbilisi, Georgia, and touched down at Moscow’s snowy Domodedovo Airport two hours later.

Airline spokeswoman Nino Giorgobiani said the Russian Transport Ministry has granted permission for three charter flights to Moscow over the next few days. But the airline has not received a response to a request to resume regular air service.

Dzhilda Machavariani, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s United Transportation Administration, said government negotiations required to bring back scheduled flights have not yet taken place.

Despite the resumption in air travel, it is likely to be years before normal relations resume.

The Kremlin has ruled out any contact with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili — whom it accuses of war crimes and whose second term ends in 2013.

Russia curtailed flights in August 2008 soon after its tanks crossed into Georgia’s rebel-held South Ossetia region, ostensibly to defend the Moscow-friendly separatists from Georgia’s attempts to retake the region by force.

Most of the fighting in the war was concentrated on the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has recognized both regions as independent states, but only Venezuela, Nicaragua and the South Pacific island nation of Nauru have followed its example. Georgia has fiercely protested, claiming that Russia is trying to annex the regions.