Georgian, Russian Ministers on Putin-Saakashvili Talks
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 21 Feb.'08 / 23:05

Davit Bakradze, the Georgian foreign minister, said “all the issues which currently top the agenda of Russo-Georgian relations” had been discussed at a meeting between the Russian and Georgian presidents in Moscow on February 21. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that President Putin had warned Georgia against joining NATO.

Bakradze, who also attended the meeting, told a group of Georgian journalists afterwards: “As a result of an agreement between the presidents, [direct] air traffic will be resumed between Russia and Georgia in the nearest future, it is expected that flights will resume from the second half of March.”

The Russian Transport Ministry said a few hours before the top-level meeting that direct air flights would be resumed if Georgian air carriers paid off outstanding debts. 

“Apart from that, Georgian and Russia experts will also discuss technical issues related with the resumption of Georgian agricultural exports to Russia. Postal communication will also be resumed. Restrictions on the issuance of Russian visas to Georgian citizens will also be removed,” Bakradze said.

He continued: “Reconstruction of the Zemo [Upper] Larsi border crossing checkpoint [at the Russian-Georgian border] will be accelerated in order to resume direct land traffic between Russia and Georgia.”

Russia closed this border crossing point in 2006, citing the need for reconstruction of the checkpoint. Georgia, however, said at the time that the decision was politically motivated and part of Russia’s economic embargo.

“As far as Russia’s membership to the World Trade Organization is concerned, talks are currently underway among experts and I think there is a good basis to enable in the nearest future to give Georgia’s go-ahead to Russia’s WTO-membership based on positions put forth by the Georgian side,” Bakradze said. “I want to reiterate that we support Russia’s WTO-membership, but there are several issues which we believe should be resolved as a precondition for Russia’s WTO-membership. At this stage, there is a good basis for having optimism as a result of the work of these expert groups.”

He gave no further details. Tbilisi has been insisting on several preconditions for supporting Russia’s WTO accession, including the legalization of trade at two border crossing points - one in breakaway South Ossetia (Roki Tunnel) and another in breakaway Abkhazia (Gantiadi). Moscow, however, has claimed the demands are politically-motivated and should be beyond the scope of WTO talks. President Saakashvili said on February 14 that there was a tentative agreement with Russia to set up joint border-crossing points, even in the conflict zones, which in turn would result in Georgia backing Russian WTO membership. Neither Russian nor Georgian officials have yet clarified the issue.

“As far as [secessionist] conflicts are concerned, this is the most difficult problem and of course one meeting, even a top-level one, would not have been enough to resolve it,’ the Georgian foreign minister said. “But for us the most important thing was a commitment, that we have heard from Russia, that the Russian side does not plan to recognize the independence of Georgia’s separatist territories.”

Meanwhile, Lavrov, who also attended the meeting, told journalists that the issue of Georgia’s NATO aspiration was also raised during the talks.

“Putin reiterated Russia’s position that we do not see any realistic reasons for that process and [the Russian president] explained in detail what the consequences of that process might be, especially in terms of Russo-Georgian relations,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Lavrov as saying.

President Saakashvili himself has not yet commented on the meeting with his Russian counterpart.

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