Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Moscow, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, met in Prague on Wednesday for a sixth time since the launch of this format of negotiations in December, 2012.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday evening after the talks that “constructive and open atmosphere of the Prague dialogue contribute to solving of practical issues of normalization of the bilateral relations” in the condition of absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries, severed after the August, 2008 war.
Zurab Abashidze told Georgian journalists in Prague after the meeting, which was delayed twice last month, that it was “important” to hear “unambiguous statement” from his Russian interlocutor that Moscow “does not intend in any way to exert any kind of pressure on Georgia” over its planned signature of the Association Agreement with the EU in June.
“Let’s see; June is not far from now, but I think that the statement, which was made on his own initiative, is interesting,” Abashidze said.
Karasin told the Georgian journalists after the meeting, which lasted for about three hours, that although it’s not part of agenda of this dialogue, the two diplomats also spoke about developments in Ukraine.
Abashidze said that his Russian counterpart laid out Moscow’s position over developments in Ukraine and he reaffirmed Georgia’s “principled position” that it “supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and its European choice.”
The Russian MFA said in its statement on the April 16 meeting between Abashidze and Karasin that resumption of import of the Georgian wines, mineral waters and agriculture products into Russia in 2013 was the “success” of the Prague talks.
“Further progress in bilateral relations was noted during the meeting. It was noted that participation of the Georgian athletes in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi had a favorable effect on the atmosphere of dialogue,” the Russian MFA said.
It said without elaborating details that the two diplomats exchanged views about “prospects for bilateral projects in transportation and energy.”
“Resumption of regular flights [between Georgia and Russia] was also discussed. It was agreed to hold next round of relevant bilateral consultations between aviation authorities in the nearest future,” the Russian MFA said, adding that “resumed contacts between leadership of customs services, as well as of chambers of commerce were assessed positively.”
“Increase in number of cultural, sport, scientific, religious and other events with the participation of the both sides was noted on the humanitarian track. Expansion of practice of issuing relevant [Russian] entry visas to the citizens of Georgia has contributed to it. About 25,000 visas have been issued in 2013,” the Russian MFA said.
Karasin told RIA Novosti news agency after the talks that lifting of visa requirements for Georgian citizens would be “premature” in the condition of absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Detention of a Georgian TV crew at the administrative boundary line of breakaway South Ossetia on April 15 was also raised during the meeting. At the time of the meeting the three crew members from Tbilisi-based TV3 television channel were still held in detention in Tskhinvali for, what authorities in breakaway region said was, “violation of the border.” Earlier on April 16 the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement blaming the TV crew of “provocation” by deliberately and “demonstratively” crossing into South Ossetia; it said that this provocation aimed at marring “atmosphere” of the Prague meeting. In a response the Georgian Foreign Ministry said that illegal detention of the Georgian journalists by the Russian forces was in itself a provocation. The journalists were released on Wednesday evening.
Abashidze said that the process of so called borderisation – placing of fences along the South Ossetian administrative border by the Russian forces, was also discussed during the meeting. Abashidze said that he was again told that the process is now already “completed”.
A boundary marker has been recently placed close to the village of Adzvi cutting farmlands of local Georgian population; an Orthodox church close to the village also falls beyond the newly placed boundary marker and the locals fear that they won’t be able to visit the church – an issue especially important for locals ahead of the Easter holidays. Senior Georgian Orthodox clerics have called on Abashidze to raise this issue during his meeting with Karasin. Abashidze said after the talks that he was told the locals will have unhindered access to the church for this upcoming Easter holiday.