Russian President Vladimir Putin said on December 19 that “we might well go towards returning to the visa-free regime” with Georgia, adding that this issue should be thoroughly thought out.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on December 18 that although issuing of Russian visas to the Georgian citizens was “liberalized”, Moscow “is not yet ready to lift visa regime.”
During his annual press conference on December 19, Putin was asked about Lavrov’s these remarks, as well as about what steps Russia can make to “normalize” ties with Georgia and whether his positions have changed after the new government came into power in Georgia.
“You have such a wide-ranging question that I do not know if I can answer it in the same way,” Putin said and continued: “But I will say the main thing. Personally my attitude has been changed towards the leadership of Georgia, but not towards the Georgian people. It is as kind and benevolent as it was previously. Even during the most difficult time, when fighting was underway in the Caucasus [reference to the August, 2008 war], relations with the Georgian people were very good. And it was confirmed even during those difficult days and hours and demonstrated in attitude of Georgians themselves towards Russia. Don’t remember if I have ever said it publicly, but in one of the towns a grandpa approached our soldiers and told him: ‘What do you want here? What are you looking for here? Go over there – Tbilisi and take Mishka [referring to then President Mikheil Saakashvili]’.”
“You know we had losses among our military servicemen. Aircraft was downed, a pilot ejected and landed somewhere; a Georgian babushka approached and told him: ‘Come here son’; she took him and fed him. Then he was sent towards the Russian military,” Putin said.
“I am not kidding, I am neither ironic, when I say that I have the kindest attitudes towards the Georgian people,” Putin continued. “We have the deepest relations both cultural and spiritual; I mean religious closeness to each other.”
“There are problems, which arose through no fault of ours; we did not start these hostilities [in August, 2008]. We did not start it and now it is quite obvious; everyone has already acknowledged it a long time ago. Whatever happened, happened. We said thousands of times: do not do it no matter what; do not allow bloodshed. But they did it anyway. Now there is a certain reality; we cannot neglect it. But still, we see some signals coming from the new leadership of Georgia,” he said.
Putin then continued by responding on the question of visas: “I do not know what our [Foreign] Minister meant; there might be some formalities related to the work of the Foreign Ministry. But understanding situation as we see it, developments in Georgia, I think that we might well go towards returning to the visa-free regime. It should be properly thought out on the level of experts.” Russian citizens do not require visa to enter into Georgia.
“I think it would be a very good step in normalization of relations between the countries, meaning that it would help people to have more communication between each other, it would help Georgian enterprises to work on the Russian market and in general it would create conditions for fundamental and eventual normalization of our relations,” Putin said.