Zurab Abashidze – We have not received information about possible suspension of trade relations with Russia from formal sources

Interpressnews spoke with Zurab Abashidze, Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Relations with Russia, about visit of the Russian member of Duma Sergey Gavrilov in Tbilisi and following developments, Russian reciprocal “punitive measures” and relations with Moscow at this stage.

Q: What is the state of relations between Georgia and Russian Federation? What could be expected in the near future?

A: New challenges have been faced in the already complicated Georgian-Russian relations. You may well be aware that a decision was made by the Russian authorities to suspend the direct air flights between the two countries from July 8, 2019. This ban will apply to Georgian air carriers as well. Over 127 000 passengers have used the direct flight opportunities last year, which is a significant number of travelers. Within the first 4 months of the current year we have witnessed a 51% increase and 152 flights in a week operated between various cities of Russia and Georgia. Since launching a Georgian-Russian dialogue in Prague in 2012 a lot of energy and effort was invested in the restoration of transport links, including those of air traffic and extension of scope. Hence, suspended air flights are a rather unpleasant fact personally for me. Every effort should be taken to primarily minimize the losses to be incurred by our citizens and entrepreneurs.

Q: Are the Russian authorities also intending to suspend trade relations?

A: We have heard nothing of this sort from the official sources of information.

Q: Has the suspension of direct air flights been conditioned by development of events at the Parliament of Georgia on June 20 or other factors also contributed to this decision?

A: Analysis of problems within the Georgian-Russian relations will lead to a long discussion. Instead, I will single out two key problems at this point in time. First one is indeed related to the visual image of what our society saw at the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, i.e. Mr. Gavrilov in the seat of the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia. You may well recall that Georgian authorities took a hard political decision. Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze resigned, MP Zaqaria Kutsnashvili left his mandate. I gave several interviews to the Russian media and stressed that Sergey Gavrilov was well informed about the nuances of the political stance in Georgia and should not have made such a mistake. Same applies to Andreas Michailidis, Greek Secretary General of the Assembly.

This is the reason of recent complications with Russia, which is so to say surfaced and seen by all. Nevertheless, there is a much deeper problem as well.

Q: Before we refer to the other problem, you mentioned an unacceptable visual image of the developments at the Parliament of Georgia in the eyes of the Georgian society occurring on June 20, 2019. Tensions grew afterwards around the hotel, which hosted the Russian delegation.

A: Indeed, tension at the Parliament of Georgia was soon followed by the sincerely severe reaction of the society and development of events shifted to the streets of the city. Sadly, it was used by the destructive forces to their benefit. Signs of violence witnessed towards the Russian MPs from certain individuals around the hotel prior to the departure of the visitors to the airport by no means reflect our traditions or behavioral norms whatsoever. It was truly unacceptable.

Q: You mentioned another deeper reason of events developed on June 20, 2019 a minute ago. What did you have in mind?

A: A lot of problems have been accumulating in the Georgian-Russian relations, predominantly related to the occupied territories. We have been doing our best to convince the Russian authorities that restoration and advancement of trade and economic relations should have been followed with a certain progress in the matters related to conflict regions. Otherwise, political relations reaching a deadlock at a certain point would have had an impact on trade relations as well. Unfortunately, it indeed happened so. Efforts from both sides will be required now to adjust the circumstances.

Q: Grigory Karasin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation stated yesterday that lift of a visa requirement was under discussion in Moscow for the citizens of Georgia from July this year. Can you confirm this?

A: We have heard statements at numerous occasions on this in recent years, claiming that lift of a visa requirement was intended, but did not actually happen afterwards. It may well be that Russian authorities were planning to do so, though I have not received such information in Prague from the Russian counterparts.

Q: We heard today that Grigory Karasin will continue his service at the Federal Council of the Russian Federation. What will happen to the so called Abashidze-Karasin Format in this case?

A: We are referring to the format of Georgian-Russian dialogue and communication, which is also known as the Prague Meetings or Abashidze-Karasin Format. This is not a dialogue between two private individuals of course. We are talking about the communication by and between two countries in the conditions when diplomatic ties are suspended and when we do not have comprehensive diplomatic representations. Channel of communication should be maintained. This is an advice of our western partners as well. Another matter is who and how will this dialogue be pursued.

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