Why is the issue of cancelling Russian visas for Georgian citizens off the agenda?
The President of Georgia made a statement on the need to specify the format of the Karasin-Abashidze dialogue and to get it beyond the framework of political discussions. That’s how Giorgi Margvelashvili responded to the tough statement by the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Georgy Karasin. “Some Georgian politicians have to check their brakes. And the brakes must work,” Karasin said after a regular meeting with the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Georgia for Settlement of Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, in Prague.
During previous rounds, the two top professional diplomats made only soft statements. Progress was obvious: the sides agreed to return Georgian agricultural products, wines and Borjomi to the Russian market; Russia released several Georgian citizens from prisons, who were sentenced for espionage in 2008-2010. In 2012, i.e. before the beginning of the Prague process, the Georgian side released several Russian citizens who were sentenced to long terms of imprisonments for espionage by the Tbilisi Court. Finally, after the previous meeting in the capital of the Czech Republic, Grigory Karasin confirmed that according to the order of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Foreign Ministry began working on simplification of the visa regime for Georgian citizens: it took a few weeks to make a decision that not only relatives, but also any physical or juridical figures could invite them to come to Russia.
And suddenly, there is such a touch statement on ‘the brakes’ which ‘must be checked by some Georgian politicians.’ Moreover, Grigory Karasin didn’t hide that he meant President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli. “Their anti-Russian statements are ruining the atmosphere which has been being created by us for three years,” the Russian diplomat stated, expressing his indignation that some Georgian leaders “called Russia a threat to the civilized world,” and during the election campaign which would be over in autumn, “urged the international community to unite against Russia.”
“We are trying to restore relations with Georgia, but our patience is not unlimited,” Karasin warned. Nobody doubts that the ‘tough bark’ by Moscow is connected with statements by Tina Khidasheli on “continuous Russian aggression” and an “existential threat from the northern neighbor.” “If the international community doesn’t unite, Georgia may disappear from the political map of the world,” Khidasheli warned. She promised in an interview to the BBC that all Georgians, including herself, “are ready to die as heroes” in case of “a new Russian aggression.” Giorgi Margvelashvili, the Commander-in-chief, made a less radical, but still very sharp statement; and Moscow couldn’t but pay attention to the statements by these key figures of Georgian power.
Josef Tsintsadze, a political scientist, the former rector of the Tbilisi Diplomatic Academy, told Vestnik Kavkaza that during “the calculation of responses” Moscow considers one more moment – the Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili who is the head of the country, according to the Constitution, as well as the majority of his colleagues in the government, makes much more peaceful and softer statements, including those on the most difficult problem which is connected with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Recently, the Minister of Agriculture of Georgia, Otar Danelia, and some of his deputies have been heavily criticized by pro-Western NGOs and the political opposition for their statements on “the great importance of the Russian market for Georgian products.” It was said that even if the European market was completely open for Georgian goods, it “wouldn’t have substituted for Russian markets” where Georgian wine and mineral water were still popular, while agricultural products had no barriers which were required by the European laws.
Obviously, these two groups of Georgian politicians who represent different Georgian elites do not play in bad and good policemen: different approaches are predetermined by different views on building relations with the neighboring state. Perhaps that is why Moscow has made only one response – Grigory Karasin says that the issue on full cancellation of visas for Georgian citizens is off the agenda.