“The long-known differences between the parties in assessing the political essence of this international agreement should not be now portrayed as a problem,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday, shortly after Tbilisi’s criticism that Russia’s previous statements “completely” contradicted the 2011 trade monitoring agreement.
“What needs to be done is to comply with the agreement in strict accordance with its terms and conditions,” reads the statement, issued a day after the January 31 meeting between Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for Russia Zurab Abashidze and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Karasin informed Abashidze that the Russian side was “completing preparations for signing a contract with the monitoring company SGS, as well as an intergovernmental agreement with Switzerland on financing its operation,” which will open the way for implementation of the 2011 agreement.
The Ministry touched upon other discussion topics as well, giving “overall positive” assessments “to the process of normalization of bilateral relations in 2017.” Moscow, however, remains “concerned” about the “continuing build-up of Georgia’s military cooperation with the United States and NATO, including military exercises, arms deliveries and training of servicemen.”
Grigory Karasin reiterated the messages in his February 1 interview to the Russian TASS agency, saying that the discussion in Prague was “very emotional.” “We had to go through the document point-by-point and agree that regardless of the interpretations, important thing is to start implementation of all provisions, which are included in this document.”
The Moscow-backed Tskhinvali authorities commented on the controversy on February 2, saying the “Republic of South Ossetia” was not a party to the bilateral agreement, and therefore, had “no obligations that would provide for functioning of the transit corridor [on its territory] between other countries.” “The possibility of practical implementation of the agreement,” according to Tskhinvali, “depends” on the results of “direct negotiations” with “the government of the Republic of South Ossetia.”
Tbilisi signed a contract with Geneva-based testing and inspection company - SGS - on carrying out cargo monitoring through three “trade corridors” between Georgia and the Russian Federation on December 19, 2017. Moscow has maintained it would sign the contract as well.
The contracts are part of the Swiss-mediated agreement between Tbilisi and Moscow signed on November 9, 2011, which envisages deployment of sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of “all trade in goods that enters or exits predefined corridors” - two of which run through Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of the Georgia-Russia border.