(Civil.Ge) — PM Bidzina Ivanishvili introduced on November 1 new post of Special Representative for Relations with Russia and appointed on the post Georgia’s former ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze.
Ivanishvili said that introduction of this post was Georgia’s “first step” aimed at demonstrating that Georgia’s new government had serious intentions to mend ties with Russia; Ivanishvili also expressed hope that Moscow would reciprocate.
“We are starting from a new page; we made a new step,” he told journalists while making an announcement about the new post. “After this decision by us, we expect a relevant statement from Russia; let’s wait. I have a huge hope that situation will be changed; I think that both countries have such stance; I think they also want to change the existing situation.”
He said that introduction of this post did not mean the shift in Georgia’s foreign policy priorities and either the change in Tbilisi’s stance over formal diplomatic relations with Russia. Ivanishvili also said that Georgia would “definitely” remain committed to Geneva talks, which were launched after the August, 2008 war with mediation from EU, OSCE and UN and involving negotiators from Georgia, Russia, the United States, as well as representatives from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.
Georgia’s Special Representative for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, will be reporting directly to PM Ivanishvili.
Georgia’s new Prime Minister also said that the most immediate task was to achieve restoration of export of Georgian products to the Russian market. Russia banned import of Georgian products, including mineral waters, wine and agriculture products in 2006. He also said that trying to improve relations in other directions, including in respect of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be a longer term objective.
“Our government should manage to mend relations with our biggest neighbor. Our two countries have a long history of relations; we have lived together for a long time – before, during and after the Soviet Union. We should manage to at first mend and then to elevate bilateral relations to a new level,” PM Ivanishvili said.
He said “situation is quite difficult”; relations were marred even before the August, 2008 war, which further worsened with “reckless war”, he said.
“Many Georgians live in the Russian Federation; many Georgians work there… Our cultures are close to each other and it gives us a hope that we will be able to mend our relations. Although, I repeat, Zurab Abashidze faces a tough work,”
“I hope that we will be able to restore cultural and trade relations in the nearest future,”
He said that Agriculture Minister, Davit Kirvalidze, would work closely with Abashidze in order to achieve restoration of export of Georgian citrus to the Russian market this year.
“That would be ideal if we manage to do that,” Ivanishvili added.
He also said that introduction of the post of special representative did not mean change in Georgia’s position about formal diplomatic relations. He said Tbilisi would remain against restoration of formal diplomatic relations with Moscow while Russia had its embassies in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.
Ivanishvili said that working on restoration of diplomatic relations, which, he said, was also related to restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, was a long-term issue; he said the two countries should start with “easier” task of restoring trade relations.
“We are starting with an easier [task] and we think that restoring trade and cultural relations is more realistic in the near future. As far as diplomatic relations are concerned, it won’t happen fast,” Ivanishvili said. “It will take a long time and it won’t be an easy process. You know that Russia has its embassies in Abkhazia and [South] Ossetia… The fact that Russia recognized Abkhazia and [South] Ossetia as independent states is a major reason why diplomatic relations cannot be restored.”
Ivanishvili said that he and his cabinet had no contacts with the Russian authorities yet.
He also said that introduction of the post of special representative for relations with Russia “does not mean that we are changing our foreign policy” priorities.
“There is no better option than Europe and the Euro-Atlantic space – NATO; but we should also manage to build friendly and neighborly relations with Russia,” Ivanishvili said.
He said that return of Georgian products back to the Russian market was realistic in a short-term period, “but we can’t join NATO tomorrow and the day after tomorrow; it requires time.”
“I understand that these two are politically conflicting issues, but we should manage to accomplish both of these goals – to mend relations with Russia and not to slow down our integration to NATO,” Ivanishvili said.
Asked about President Saakashvili’s role in this process, Ivanishvili responded that the President “won’t be able to impede” this process, but “he won’t contribute to it either” because of “provocations he carried out in 2008” before the August war and because of his “undiplomatic remarks in address of the Russian leadership.”
Zurab Abashidze was Georgia’s ambassador to Russia in 2000-2004; in 1990s Abashidze was ambassador to NATO and the EU.
After the August, 2008 war Abashidze was involved at least four times in informal diplomacy with Russia, when he joined a Georgian Orthodox Church delegation, which visited Russia in November and December, 2008, as well as in February and June, 2009.
“I understand well how difficult and responsible task I will have to deal with,” Abashidze told journalists on November 1. “Relationship with Russia is the most problematic issue of our foreign policy.”
“The Prime Minister’s decision to introduce this post demonstrates his and Georgian government’s readiness to create a new independent channel of relations, communication and dialogue with Russia.”
“We expect that the Russian side will have an appropriate reaction on this move by the Georgian government and will reciprocate to it. Of course, the Geneva format of negotiations should be maintained as it has its special purpose,” Abashidze said.
“In our opinion, the goal of a new format of political dialogue should be discussion of the most difficult problems existing between the two countries, their gradual settlement, building of confidence between the sides, as well as establishment of good neighborly relations as a future perspective. Probably, it will not be easy. We are quite realistic that the situation is really difficult.”
“Our task is to establish predictable, pragmatic and honest relations with Russia, which will be oriented towards the future, fair decisions and possible coordinated activities against common threats and challenges. To achieve these goals Georgia should take all those steps which are in line with the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right of free choice [of the nations] in international affairs,” Georgia’s Special Representative for Relations with Russia said.
Abashidze said that Georgia would notify Russia about introduction of this post through relevant diplomatic channels.
After cutting diplomatic relations following the August, 2008 war, Georgia and Russia communicate mainly through Swiss diplomats.
“We will wait for their reaction; we hope that Russia will reciprocate,” Abashidze said.
“Introduction of this post indicates that the PM pays special importance to the issue of mending relations with Russia,” Abashidze said. “The ball is in Russia’s court and we will wait for their response.”
He also said that Tbilisi had no prior consultations with Russia about its plans to introduce this post.
Abashidze also said that after recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia “the situation has been deadlocked.”
“They have their red lines which they do not intend to cross and they have said that they would not retract recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We also have our red lines, but before approaching these red lines, our position is that there are other problems where we may find common ground – these are trade, cultural and humanitarian issues,” Abashidze said.
“So if we move forward step-by-step, we can hope that new opportunities may emerge in future,” he said and added that among Georgia’s “red lines” were territorial integrity and having “free choice in international relations and in respect of our declared foreign policy priority” of Euro-Atlantic integration.