The Georgian consular office in Moscow, which formally operates under the Swiss embassy in Russia, was left without electricity on August 17 for the second time this month, prompting Tbilisi to accuse Moscow of a failure to ensure “the normal and unimpeded functioning” of its mission and warned with “retaliatory measures”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it has nothing to do with supply of electricity to the Georgian consular service as the latter owes unpaid utility bills to a private company, which owns the building where the consulate is located.
After Georgia cut diplomatic ties with Russia following the August war, the two countries agreed with each other and with Switzerland in 2009 to operate their diplomatic missions under the Swiss embassy. As a result the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia opened its Russian Federation Interests Section and simultaneously a Georgian Interests Section was opened by the Embassy of Switzerland in Moscow on March 5, 2009.
The Russian Interests Section has been set up in the premise of the former Embassy of the Russian Federation in Georgia; the same is with the Georgian Interests Section in Moscow. But the Georgian consulate service is located in different location on Ostozhenka street 26 – the Ostozhenka Business-Center building owned by RusInvestProekt.
According to the owner of the building the Georgian consulate service has not paid utility fees – water, electricity and heating – since January, 2008.
In a period between January, 2008 and December, 2010 the amount of unpaid fees reached 1.076 million Russian rubles (about USD 37,500), according to the owner of the building. The electricity was first cut to the Georgian consulate earlier this month, as a result the consulate had to stop working for two days on August 4.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry dismissed the claims by owner of the building as “groundless”.
“It is absolutely incomprehensible and unacceptable that the work of the Section has been interrupted to the detriment of ordinary citizens as a result of groundless demands voiced by the building's owners,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 17, adding that the building changed hands for several times “as a result of various corrupt transactions.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that its consular services were suspended in Moscow after the electricity was cut on August 17. Russian citizens willing to travel to Georgia can obtain entry visas upon arrival in the country in airports or other border crossing points, including at Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi.
It said that Russia’s failure to secure unimpeded funding of its diplomatic mission was a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“With a view to resolving this state of affairs, the Georgian Foreign Ministry has set up a working group and is considering the possibility of the Georgian government taking retaliatory measures,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
On August 12 a Georgian diplomat in Moscow met with Russian Foreign Ministry official and offered talks in presence of the Swiss representatives to resolve the issue.
On August 16 Alexander Lukashevich, the Russian foreign ministry's spokesman, however, said that no talks were required between the foreign ministries of the two countries as the issue was about unpaid fees and the dispute was between the consulate and the private company.
“There are no problems for the functioning of the consular service” other than those related with unpaid utility bills, Lukashevich said.
“The Russian side observes honestly its obligations under the inter-governmental agreement with the Switzerland of March 4, 2009 in terms of ensuring normal functioning of the Georgian Interests Sections in the Embassy of Switzerland in Moscow. We hope that the Georgian side will also act this way in respect of our Interests Section in Tbilisi,” Lukashevich said on August 16.