President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Tbilisi on Wednesday evening for his first official visit to Georgia.
On April 23 he will hold talks with his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili; PM Irakli Garibashvili in Tbilisi. Meeting with head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, is also planned.
On April 24 Lukashenko will head to Black Sea resort and port city of Batumi, where he will meet head of Adjara Autonomous Republic’s government Archil Khabadze.
On the eve of Lukashenko’s talks in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital hosted Georgian-Belarus business forum and several ministers from the Belarus government held meetings with their counterparts earlier on April 22.
Belarus Interior Minister Igor Shunevich met his Georgian counterpart Vakhtang Gomelauri. During the visit the two ministers will sign an agreement on cooperation in fight against crime, as well as agreement on readmission and protocol on its implementation.
Belarus Agriculture Minister Leonid Zayats and Minister of Industry Vitaly Vovk met Georgian Agriculture Minister Otar Danelia. The sides are considering a memorandum to foster setting up of joint ventures in the agriculture sector, according to the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture.
Deputy PM of Belarus, Mikhail Rusy, said on April 22 that the visit of President Lukashenko will give a momentum to bilateral relations.
“We have to say directly that our relations have stalled at certain point. Over USD 50 million trade turnover which we now have is nothing compared to the potential that our countries have,” Rusy said, according to Belarus state news agency BelTA.
“The visit of [Lukashenko] is undoubtedly historic and I think that a very serious step will be made towards development of our relations,” the Belarus deputy PM said.
Georgian President’s foreign policy adviser Tengiz Pkhaladze said that Tbilisi and Minsk started efforts to prepare the visit of the Belarus President year ago. He said that the visit is of “special significance.” He also said there is a huge potential of boosting bilateral ties with Belarus, which should be used.
“On the political issues, I would note Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and policy of non-recognition of [Georgia’s breakaway regions]. On the economic issues, number of agreements will be signed during the visit,” Pkhaladze said.
During early years of Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency, relations between Georgia and Belarus were frosty; in 2006 Tbilisi condemned presidential elections in Belarus as undemocratic. But situation changed in following years and especially after the August 2008 war with Russia, Georgia intensified efforts to build better ties with Minsk as it tried to secure non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Belarus, which in 2009 was considering such move, but eventually refused to follow Moscow’s suit of recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
According to one diplomatic dispatch from series of leaked U.S. embassy cables, President Lukashenko allegedly told visiting Estonian foreign minister in October, 2009 that then President Saakashvili invited him to visit Tbilisi, but he had to decline as he did not want to annoy Moscow.
When commenting on his planned visit to Georgia, Lukashenko said in February, 2015: “We, together with the Georgian leadership, were delaying and delaying it [visit] all the time, but now we decided that we have to meet this year and seriously talk about bilateral relations with our close people.”