TBILISI, Georgia -- As Russia took steps to resume imports of Georgian-produced wine and mineral water, Georgia's new prime minister, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, said Tuesday he was making progress on one of his campaign promises -- to repair the country's badly frayed relationship with its huge neighbor.
Mr. Ivanishvili has struggled to meet the expectations that swept him to power in October, ending the nine-year political dominance of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his party. Many voters expected his election to be followed by immediate financial relief and a turnaround in relations with Russia, perhaps even re-engagement with the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
On Monday came the news that Russia would dispatch teams of sanitary inspectors to Georgia in anticipation of resuming imports. Georgian wine and mineral water -- Russian consumer staples since the Soviet era -- were banned from Russian shelves in 2006, as Mr. Saakashvili openly challenged Russia's supremacy in the region. At a news conference marking his first 100 days in office on Tuesday, Mr. Ivanishvili said he was making headway repairing the rift.
"It will not happen as fast as I used to say, and I can confirm this today," he said. But he said that he felt a friendly tone was returning to the relationship, and that Russian officials had given him "a surprisingly warm reception" at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.
"I got the feeling that there is great nostalgia and great desire not only from the people of Georgia but also from Russia for the restoration of relations between the two states," he said.
Mr. Saakashvili and his allies have warned that Mr. Ivanishvili's overtures may mark a departure from Georgia's longstanding efforts to join NATO and the European Union, which still has strong public support. Late last month, legislators from Mr. Saakashvili's United National Movement proposed amending the country's constitution to make Georgia's "pro-Western orientation" legally binding.
Mr. Ivanishvili said Tuesday that he would not amend the constitution, but that altering the country's pro-Western foreign policy was "unimaginable."
"This is not the choice of either Saakashvili or the previous government," he said. "This is the will of the Georgian people."
A Russian analyst, Fyodor Lukyanov, commenting on the "thaw" between the two countries in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper, warned that the early stage of re-engagement -- like the lifting of economic blockades -- would be followed by a more difficult one, especially if Russia applied "excess pressure" to bring Tbilisi back into its orbit.
He noted that Russian chatter about Georgia re-joining the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Russian-dominated organization it left after its brief 2008 war with Russia, had provoked a storm of controversy in Georgia, for which integration is a fundamental goal.
"Without the dreams of institutional integration into the Western society, Georgia hangs in the air-- there is no other aim for its development," he wrote. "The idea of Russia, if it existed, could not be considered now. But quite frankly Moscow cannot offer anything anywhere near as attractive as the European idea -- maybe more a matter of image than substance, but that doesn't matter."
Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi and Ellen Barry from Moscow.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.