Russian negotiators have failed to convince their Georgian counterparts to soften stance over Russia’s WTO membership terms during the talks on May 31.
Tamar Kovziridze, the Georgian Deputy Economy Minister, who was negotiating with chief Russian negotiator from the Economy Ministry Maksim Medvedkov for seven hours in Tbilisi, said Georgia is not against Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“But we want Russia to follow its commitments undertaken back in 2004,” she added.
In May, 2004 economy ministers of the two countries signed a protocol on conclusion of bilateral market-access negotiations, which gave Tbilisi’s formal go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership. Moscow, in exchange, vowed to legalize trade on the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sections of border with Georgia.
Tbilisi says that Russia’s refusal to legalize two border crossing points – one in breakaway South Ossetia (Roki Tunnel) and another on in breakaway Abkhazia (Gantiadi) is a violation of the 2004 protocol.
“The negotiations have demonstrated that Russia, unfortunately, at this stage is unwilling to settle this problem,” Deputy Economy Minister Kovziridze said.
But she added that recent round of talks turned out to be very important as the Russian delegation “had to admit that these border crossing points are operating illegally, without any coordination with the Georgian side.”
Russia tries to portray issues related with border crossing points in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as political, which has nothing to do with WTO accession talks.
“We think that these are two different issues. Accession to the WTO is not related to functioning of the border crossing points,” Medvedkov said.
He added that a dispute over whether to link these two issues has topped the recent talks in Tbilisi.
Russian chief negotiator also said that Moscow will be able to comply with the commitments after joining WTO.
The sides agreed to hold next round of talks sometime in July; venue and an exact date has yet to be agreed.
Some Georgian media sources, as well as some opposition politicians have speculated recently that it would have been impossible for Georgia to adhere its hard line stance, especially after Russia settled its WTO accession negotiations with the United States.
But officials in Tbilisi strongly deny that there is a pressure from partner states to soften stance.
“We have very important leverage and we are not going to just give it away without receiving serious benefits in exchange,” a top-level Georgian official told Civil.Ge.
He also said that Georgia’s western partners, including the United States, perceive Georgia’s “legitimate demands with understanding.”
If Moscow agrees on, what Tbilisi calls it, “legalization of trade” via border crossing points in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it will be a matter of further negotiations to agree on forms and terms of legalization.
Deputy Economy Minister Tamar Kovziridze says that there is a precedent of this kind in Transdnestria, a breakaway region of Moldova.
EU launched its first-ever border mission on the post-Soviet space in 2005 to monitor a Transdnestrian section of the border between Moldova and Ukraine in an attempt to clamp down smuggling there.