Georgia’s unilateral decision to introduce visa-free rules for Russian citizens residing in seven North Caucasus republics is “a provocation” and an attempt “to destabilize” situation in the region, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on October 14.
President Saakashvili’s decree, according to which residents of North Caucasus republics can enter into Georgia and stay in the country without visa for 90 days, went into force from October 13.
“An attempt to divide population of Russia on various categories contradicts norms of civilized inter-state communication. It is also clearly visible a link [of this decision] to Tbilisi’s drive to destabilize situation in North Caucasus and to distract attention from destructive policy of the Georgian leadership towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Russia is consistently advocating for friendly relations in the Caucasus, for securing normal, calm life, which Saakashvili tried to undermine by waging war in August, 2008. He cut diplomatic relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation and by doing so created obstacles in communication between our citizens. It was the Georgian side which was dragging out reopening of Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border crossing point. And now, when it is reopened, the Georgian leadership has decided to find means to use this channel of communication for its unscrupulous goals.”
Georgia said that visa-free entry rules for North Caucasus residents was part of its policy of “united Caucasus”, outlined by President Saakashvili in his UN speech in September. Officials in Tbilisi also say that the decision is motivated by purely humanitarian purposes and aims at easing residents of the North Caucasus to easily access Georgia through Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border crossing point, which was reopened in March but Georgian visas are not issued there. Visas are only available either in the Georgian interest section at the Swiss embassy in Moscow or upon arrival in Tbilisi airport.
“Russia has no problems with Georgia, with the Georgian people,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in the same statement. “We have problems with Saakashvili’s regime, which fails to calm down.”
“It is clear that these convulsive actions [of Tbilisi] are aimed at searching new and new irritants, which are not in the interests of the Georgian people and which may only lead to additional problems for the Georgian people,” it said.