Russia has no levers of influence to derail Georgia from its European integration and to prevent the country from signing the Association Agreement with the EU next year, President Giorgi Margvelashvili said.
In an interview with the Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV on December 3, he said it would be wrong to start “a priori declaring” now that Russia will exert pressure on Georgia.
“But it does not mean that we should relax,” he said.
Margvelashvili said the Georgian authorities “are assessing risks” taking into consideration past experience of relations with Russia.
“I do not want to start declaring in advance that there is a threat… We should not incite panic. Saying that it has already happened in Ukraine and it will happen in Georgia too will be a wrong reaction. We should say that yes it happened in Ukraine and we should be very careful and we should be very focused on one direction – to modernize our society and to sign the Association Agreement in the nearest future,” he said.
“We are assessing risks based on our past experience. When we look at these possible risks we see that our position is strong and there are fewer levers of influence on us,” Margvelashvili said.
Asked if reopened Russian market for the Georgian products might be used by Russia as a lever of pressure by again closing the market, Margvelashvili responded: “Yes of course.”
But he also said that it’s not a lever that can outweigh Georgia’s European choice and force the country to make a foreign policy U-turn.
Margvelashvili said that volume of bilateral trade with Russia will not reach levels that can cause Georgia’s “destabilization” in case the Russian market is again closed.
“Russia has actually exhausted negative levers of impact on Georgia,” he said.
Reopening of the Russian market boosted trade turnover between the two countries, mainly due to increased Georgian exports, which made Russia Georgia’s fourth largest trading partner in January-September, 2013 with USD 501.7 million, a 35% year-on-year increase. Russia was Georgia’s sixth largest trading partner in 2012 and the fifth largest in the first half of 2013.
In January-September 2013 Georgian exports to Russia increased more than threefold over the same period of last year to USD 103.6 million, according to the Georgian state statistics office.
Export of Georgian wines and mineral waters saw a significant increase this year, driven mainly by reopening of the Russian market.
Georgian wine export increased 73.9% y/y in January-September 2013 in value to USD 74.1 million making its share in country’s total export 3.7%. Export of mineral waters rose 60.1% y/y to USD 72.8 million, accounting 3.6% of Georgia’s total exports.
President Margvelashvili said that Georgia should not say no to trade with Russia just out of fear that one day Russia may again close down its market for the Georgian products.
“That’s an isolationist logic, which does not lead to any positive outcome,” he said, adding that what matters is to further diversify Georgia’s export markets.
Margvelashvili also said the main factor that makes Georgia’s foreign policy course less vulnerable to any possible outside pressure is the fact that “the Georgian society is extremely consolidated over the European choice.” He, however, also did not rule out possibility of “activation” by Russia of some “radical groups” within the country and “directing these radical groups against the European choice.”