Tbilisi hopes to launch a joint committee with Russia and Swiss mediators in August to supervise implementation of WTO deal between the two countries on customs monitoring, Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, said after meeting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague on July 15.
“Quite a serious agreement has been reached over customs monitoring. A working meeting will be held in August in Switzerland, where a relevant committee will probably be formalized and contracts signed with the Swiss company and we hope that this project will be put into operation,” Abashidze told Georgian journalists in Prague after the meeting.
Georgia agreed to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership only after Tbilisi and Moscow signed a Swiss-mediated agreement in November, 2011, envisaging putting in place sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of cargo passing through breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The agreement envisages, among other issues, hiring of “neutral private company” to carry out monitoring of cargo movement through three “trade corridors” two of which run in the breakaway regions and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of Georgia-Russia border.
SGS, the world’s largest inspection, verification, testing and certification company headquartered in Geneva, has been selected for carrying out the monitoring. Abashidze was referring to SGS when expressing hope that Georgia and Russia would sign their respective, separate contracts with the company in August in Switzerland.
According to the 2011 agreement Russia, Georgia and Switzerland, which acts as a mediator, will establish a Joint Committee, which will be in charge of supervising the implementation of the deal, as well as will be authorized to address possible disputes between the parties.
It was the Georgian side, which reported about possible Swiss-mediated meeting on the issue in Switzerland next month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s press release, summing up results of the July 15 meeting between Abashidze and Karasin, does not mention at all the WTO deal and possible meeting in Switzerland in August.
The July 15 meeting in Prague between Abashidze and Karasin was in the framework of bilateral direct dialogue, which was launched in late 2012 between the two countries, which have diplomatic relations severed since the August 2008 war. The so called Abashidze-Karasin talks in Prague involve discussions mostly on economic, trade and humanitarian issues.
Both the Georgian and Russian sides said that Abashidze raised the issue of installing “border” signposts at the South Ossetian administrative boundary line in the short distance from Georgia’s main east-west highway, leaving a mile-long portion of the BP-operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the area outside Tbilisi’s control.
According to Abashidze he condemned the move as a “provocation”, which poses “a serious threat” to security and stability in the region. Karasin reiterated Moscow’s position that “border demarcation” issues should be discussed not with Moscow, but directly with Tskhinvali.
“Despite of existing divergent approaches to the principle political issues, business-like atmosphere of the Prague meeting allowed to successfully discuss practical issues of the bilateral relations,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Abashidze said after the meeting that a “serious step” has been made to achieve release of those Georgian citizens who currently serve prison term in Russia on spying charges. Last year Russia handed over to Georgia three persons, who were serving lengthy prison terms in Russia on espionage charges.
“We made a very serious step towards releasing our citizens who are serving prison term in Russia on spying charges and I think that very serious steps will be made in the nearest future in this regard,” Abashidze told Imedi TV.
An official from the Russian Transport Ministry and head of Georgia’s Land Transport Agency, Mikheil Khmaladze, participated in the Prague meeting for the first time on July 15.
Although restoration of railway link between the two countries via breakaway Abkhazia was raised, there was not in-depth discussion of the issue, according to both Karasin and Abashidze.
“We are not discussing this issue in this format,” Abashidze said. “Their [Russia’s] approach is completely unacceptable for us. They tell us: ‘if you are interested in this, discuss it with Abkhazia, with other neighbors’; our response is: ‘we are not interested. We are not discussing it in this context, in this format’.”
Abashidze may appear before lawmakers next week for a parliamentary hearing where he will be grilled by opposition lawmakers from UNM party, who are calling for scrapping of Abashidze-Karasin talks; UNM argues that this format creates “false impression” of normalization of bilateral relations, which is damaging Georgia’s interests, in particular in terms of pushing Russia’s aggressive moves against Georgia high on the international agenda.