The Russian Foreign Ministry has again warned that “sharply intensified anti-Russian” rhetoric by Georgia is damaging ongoing “normalization” of bilateral ties and is also having adverse effect on the Geneva international discussions, launched after the August 2008 war.
The issue was raised by the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement on March 21 in which it lays out Moscow’s long-standing position over number of issues that are discussed regularly at the Geneva talks, 35th round of which will be held on March 22-23.
A similar statement was also made by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin ahead of his meeting with Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, in Prague on March 16. He said at the time that Moscow was refraining from responding to “provocative anti-Russian rhetoric” of some senior Georgian officials, among them the President and the Defense Minister, but “our patience is not limitless”.
Karasin also represents Russia at the Geneva talks, which also includes representatives from Georgia, the United States, as well as from breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Talks are co-chaired by EU, UN and OSCE envoys.
“Period in the lead up to this round of the Geneva discussions was marked by sharply intensified anti-Russian attacks by official Tbilisi,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 21. “At the recent meeting of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Grigory] Karasin and Georgian PM’s special representative [Zurab] Abashidze in Prague, we have called on our partners to keep their PR exercises within limits in order to avoid damaging continuing process of normalization of bilateral relations.”
“Georgian confrontational propaganda is not less disastrous for the atmosphere of the Geneva discussions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
In this context the Russian MFA pointed at Georgian Foreign Ministry’s quarterly reports on “Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Regions of Georgia”, which it slammed as “obvious slander against Republic of Abkhazia, the Russian Federation and the Republican of South Ossetia.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili criticized Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, for, as he put it, not responding to Karasin’s remarks at the Prague talks “appropriately.”
“Such kind of remarks, if made within the Prague format, have to be responded appropriately,” the President said in an interview with the Georgian public broadcaster on March 20.
“Abashidze is PM’s representative; if I had a representative, this representative would have responded differently,” he said.
Margvelashvili also reiterated importance of informal bilateral dialogue, led by Karasin and Abashidze, which was launched in late 2012 with focus on trade, economic and humanitarian issues. Margvelashvili said that “cutting of dialogue does not bring anything positive.” He, however, also said that the mandate of the Prague dialogue should be “specified that they are not talking there about political issues and about what kind of rhetoric the Georgian side should have.”
Abashidze said on March 21, that President Margvelashvili’s criticism caused his “bewilderment” and added that the President would have known what his response to Karasin was if he had been briefed better by his aides and if before voicing this criticism he had relied on written report, compiled and sent to relevant state agencies after each round of meeting in Prague.
Abashidze said that when Karasin raised the issue of “anti-Russian rhetoric”, he responded that no one in Georgia can “ban anyone from criticizing Russian policies.”
“We are also ready to listen to criticism, but it should be within the limits of correctness and it should not be an insult,” he said. “Cutting off dialogue will not help to solve problems… but our dialogue does not mean in any way that Georgia should make a compromise at the expense of its national interests,” Abashidze said.
Referring to UNM opposition party’s calls for scrapping of Abashidze-Karasin format of bilateral dialogue, the PM’s special representative said that this format contributed not only to reopening of the Russian market for Georgian products, but also helped to move smoothly forward on the path of the European integration with signing of the Association Agreement and upcoming visa liberalisation with the EU.
“I am usually asked what specific results this dialogue has brought for Georgia. It’s better to ask it the Georgian farmers, winemakers, companies involved in transportation, as well as many people involved in tourism industry; ask about it economists – how much money the budget receives from all these activities… What the dialogue has brought? Ask this question to those citizens of our country, who were serving prison term in Russia for espionage,” Abashidze said.
He was referring to those three Georgians, who were serving lengthy prison terms in Russia for espionage, and who were handed over by Moscow to Georgia in 2014.
Abashidze said that he was told by Karasin at the recent meeting in Prague on March 16 that Russia is going to release “in the nearest future” three other Georgian citizens, who are serving sentence in Russia on espionage charges; release of a fourth Georgian citizens should also follow shortly too.
“So I think that our four citizens will be released in the near future,” he said, adding that “several” other Georgian citizens would remain imprisoned in Russia.