Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin hailed Moscow’s direct talks with Tbilisi, saying that the dialogue helped take bilateral relations “out of a grim and hopeless deadlock.”
Karasin made the remarks after meeting with the Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze in Prague on November 19.
Meetings between Abashidze and Karasin are held in the framework of bilateral direct dialogue, which was launched in late 2012 between the two countries, which have had severed diplomatic relations since the August 2008 war. The Abashidze-Karasin talks in Prague involve discussions mostly on economic, trade and humanitarian issues.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a press release after the November 19 Abashidze-Karasin meeting that “despite differences over principle political issues, a business-like atmosphere of meetings in Prague allows us to successfully solve the practical issues of bilateral relations, which is mutually beneficial.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that despite an “unfavorable macroeconomic” situation in the region, the decline in bilateral trade turnover was “insignificant.”
“The pragmatic stance of Georgia directed towards the normalization of relations with Russia and the non-use of protective measures by Russia in respect to Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement and free trade area with the EU played a positive role in this regard,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Bilateral trade turnover between the two countries declined 8.9% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2015 to USD 530.3 million. Imports from Russia increased by 13% y/y to USD 418.3 million and Georgian exports to Russia suffered 47.1% y/y decline to USD 112 million. Russia was Georgia’s fifth largest export market after Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Turkey and Armenia, accounting for 6.8% of Georgia’s total exports.
Karasin told the Russian news agency TASS after the talks that unlike Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia continues benefiting from a preferential trade system with Russia as Moscow did not apply “restrictive measures” following Tbilisi’s decision to sign a deep and comprehensive free trade treaty with the EU.
“We are doing it purposefully as we believe that it helps us in developing relations which the people of both countries are interested in,” Karasin was quoted by TASS news agency.
“Probably the main result [of direct dialogue] is that we managed to take the relations between Russia and Georgia out of grim and hopeless deadlock, which was named after Saakashvili,” Karasin said, referring to Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
“Even in the condition of absence of diplomatic relations, we managed to resume interaction in specific sectors of economy, transport, culture, as well as in scientific and humanitarian spheres,” Karasin said.
The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said that during the meeting, which lasted for more than three hours, Abashidze told him about recent public opinion polls in Georgia, according to which “70 percent of Georgian citizens support continuation of dialogue with Russia.”
Karasin also noted that political opposition in Georgia sticks to a “hard-line anti-Russian stance.”
“The opposition still aspires to reverse history and keeps on asserting that Russia is a major and cunning enemy. We have reiterated at the meeting that Russia consistently supports a normalization of relations [with Georgia]. The political leadership of our state and ordinary citizens are interested in it,” he said.
Karasin said that at times the Georgian officials resort to “unfriendly rhetoric” against Russia, which he said is motivated mostly by the internal political situation in Georgia. He added that Moscow reacts with restraint to such “attacks”.
“We understand that the rules of the internal political struggle at times prompts Georgian politicians, including officials, to resort to unfriendly rhetoric. Sometimes, this rhetoric is extremely harsh. We try to react with restraint, understanding that at times internal politics dictates its own rules,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said.
Karasin said that in between the meetings in Prague he keeps contact with his Georgian interlocutor via phone. The next meeting is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2016, he said; the precise date will be agreed later.
He also said that he told the Georgian diplomat that Moscow will “continue the practice of easing” issuing Russian visas to Georgian citizens.
The Georgian PM’s office said in a written statement after the meeting that Abashidze raised the issue of borderization and frequent cases of detentions of locals across the administrative boundary line with the “occupied region” of South Ossetia, as well as “restrictions” imposed on the Georgian-language education in schools of Gali, predominantly ethnic Georgian populated district in breakaway Abkhazia.
“It poses a serious threat to security and stability in the country and the region. It was noted that the Georgian side uses and will continue to use all the diplomatic means at its disposal to inform the international community for the purpose of preventing the above mentioned [developments],” the Georgian PM’s office said.
It also said that the issue of Georgian nationals serving lengthy prison terms in Russia for spying charges was raised at the meeting.
“It was noted that a relevant decision will supposedly be taken in the near future based on which several of our citizens will be able to return back to their families,” the Georgian PM’s office said.
Last year Russia handed over three people who were serving prison terms in Russia on espionage charges. The issue of the other Georgian citizens remaining in Russian prisons has been raised in previous talks in Prague as well.
Neither Russian Foreign Ministry nor the Georgian PM’s office mentioned in their respective press releases the issue of implementation of 2011 WTO deal between the two countries on customs monitoring; it was one of the topics of discussion at the previous meeting in Prague in July, but no progress has been reported in this regard since then.