The OSCE security body said on Saturday Russia was allowing its observers to circulate freely throughout Georgia in a possible sign of easing tensions between Moscow and the West.
The development comes days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy travels to Moscow for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev to assess Russian compliance with a French-brokered peace plan to halt last month's brief war between Russia and Georgia over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.
"I've gotten reports throughout the night ... and actually the OSCE monitors are now moving around quite freely," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, chairman in office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"We've had very good access. I think we're working at it and the Russians are, I'd argue, opening up," Stubb told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the southern French city of Avignon.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the new signs of Russian cooperation augured well for Sarkozy's visit, in which he will also take part. Asked about the chances of agreement during the visit, he said: "I think it will be possible".
Despite the peace deal, Moscow has defied the West by keeping troops in so-called "security zones" on Georgian territory beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebel province.
"In that context it would be wrong for any foreign minister to pronounce himself optimistic in advance of a meeting to deliver on commitments that should have happened a long time ago," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband noted.
EU leaders warned the Kremlin this week that they could postpone talks due this month on a new EU-Russia partnership pact, but avoided tougher sanctions amid internal divisions on how to deal with Europe's largest energy supplier.
EU diplomats say the bloc will have to toughen its stance further if Russia does not pull its troops back to pre-conflict positions and some eastern states, including Lithuania, want sanctions on firms investing in the breakaway Georgian areas.
The OSCE currently has 20 monitors in Georgia and its general assembly will meet on Monday and Tuesday to increase their number, Stubb said.
The European Union said on Friday it was "practically ready" to send around 200 civilian monitors to Georgia, on top of the OSCE monitors, while Germany and Italy led calls for an inquiry into the outbreak of the South Ossetia conflict.
Amid doubts whether the EU monitors would be able to deploy throughout Georgia initially, Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt said the EU should agree a country-wide mandate but added:
"The likelihood that the Russians will let them in to Abkhazia and South Ossetia is somewhat limited, to put it in the mildest possible terms, but ... they should deploy where they could deploy and they should deploy fast."
Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Eylül 2008, 12:43