Responding to a journalist’s question about criticism of Tbilisi’s efforts towards Russia’s North Caucasus republics by some analysts, as well as by U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said he was “absolutely not interested” in what Clapper was saying.
Vashadze, however, immediately added that he had not seen the U.S. intelligence chief’s full testimony on worldwide threat assessment and would not comment on Clapper's remarks.
“I am absolutely not interested in what Clapper is saying; absolutely not. I don’t know in what context he said it. To say the truth I’ve seen this quote of him taken from his testimony… I will consider in what context it has been said after I see [Clapper’s] full speech. I do not like when journalists give me someone’s quote cut out from the context; so I won’t start talking about Clapper; it’s his business what he has said,” Vashadze said in an interview with RFE/RL Georgian service on February 24 during the visit to the Czech Republic..
The U.S. intelligence chief said in the annual worldwide threat assessment hearing at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 16: “Moscow's continued military presence in and political-economic ties to Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, combined with Georgia's dissatisfaction with the status quo, account for some of the tensions. Georgia's public efforts to engage with various ethnic groups in the Russian North Caucasus have also contributed to these tensions.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Philip H. Gordon, who was accompanying Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg in Tbilisi on February 24, told Georgian news magazine, Tabula, that “clearly the Russian government is not happy” with Georgia’s North Caucasus efforts, including the one of lifting visa requirements for the Russian citizens living in the North Caucasus.
“But we have seen no evidence that there has been any damage to Russia, or that it was done in any spirit of damaging Russian interests,” Gordon was quoted.
In the interview with RFE/RL Georgian service, the Georgian Foreign Minister said that he was “also not interested in what the two representatives of American NGO will write in their report.”
“Because they are watching situation in Georgia from Potomac and we are watching [situation in Georgia] from Tbilisi,” Vashadze said.
He was referring to the report released by the Washington-based liberal think-tank Center for American Progress, authored by Samuel Charap and Cory Welt. The comprehensive report, which analysis conflicts in Georgia and calls for a more proactive U.S. approach to these conflicts, also discusses Tbilisi’s efforts to reach out North Caucasus. It says that Georgia’s policies in this regard “are seemingly not that problematic in and of themselves.”
“The problem with Georgia’s North Caucasus outreach is that this policy is being conducted unilaterally, in the absence of normal diplomatic relations, and to a part of Russia that is the locus of its greatest internal security threat — a violent and growing Islamist insurgency — and adjacent to the site of the Russian state’s greatest prestige project, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Regardless of the Georgian government’s motives, this policy is inevitably seen in Moscow as designed to stoke instability,” the report reads.
“When one is talking about a certain issue, it would be better if we look and study in details what Georgia has done,” Grigol Vashadze said.
“What Georgia has done is that [Georgia] waived USD 30 [visa fee] for Russian citizens from North Caucasus and [Georgia] is no longer putting visas in their passports,” Vashadze said, adding that individuals entering into Georgia from North Caucasus republics were subject to standard border security procedures like other Russian citizens.
He said that humanitarian motives on the one hand and Tbilisi’s willingness to counter misinformation about Georgia by letting North Caucasus residents to easily travel and see themselves real situation in Georgia, were behind Tbilisi’s decision to lift visa requirements.
He also said that this move had not triggered “any negative” reaction internationally.
“No one has talked about it, except of one or two scaremongers. Last year I had up to 65 visits and believe me no one even mentioned a word about it, because everyone understands our motives very well,” Vashadze said.