According to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the beginning of the end of his relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin came at their first face-to-face meeting in February 2004.
Putin, following a long tradition in Moscow's relations with the countries of its "near abroad," reportedly ordered Saakashvili to ensure the future of Valeri Khaburzania, security minister under the previous Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze. Instead, Saakashvili demoted Khaburzania and soon fired him outright.
Putin, Saakashvili says, was livid -- and Russian-Georgian relations quickly deteriorated. Since the five-day August 2008 war, the Russian government has said it will not have any dealings with Georgia while Saakashvili remains in power.
In its recent victorious election campaign, billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream pledged to reduce the level of confrontation with Moscow without sacrificing Georgia's overall path toward European integration, close relations with the United States, and eventual NATO membership.