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Georgian President Hails “Warm Talks” with Putin
/ 5 Jul.'04 / 12:40
Civil Georgia

Saakashvili: Russian Bases will Go Much Sooner Than Many Think

Two Presidents agreed to simplify visa
requirements during their second meeting
in Moscow. Photo: Kremlin.ru

The easing of  visa requirements for Georgian and Russian citizens was the only concrete agreement reached during talks between Mikhail Saakashvili and Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 3. But the Georgian President commented  that the situation in South Ossetia and the issue of the two Russian military bases still operating Georgia were also discussed with his Russia counterpart.

Saakashvili made no detailed comments regarding the talks, which he described merely as “warm and constructive.” He did, however, outline the main issues discussed with Putin during separate interviews with Russian and Georgian media sources.

Mikheil Saakashvili said that after the Georgian side’s decision to unilaterally simplify visa requirements for Russian citizens Moscow decided to respond in a reciprocal manner.

As a result, for the first time in four years Georgian and Russian citizens will be able to receive a visa at the airport as opposed to queuing up at the embassy. However, no exact date for the implementation of these simplified visa procedures is known yet. Russia introduced stricter visa requirements for Georgian citizens in 2000 under the pretext of preventing the infiltration of militants into Russian territory.

“Easing of visa requirements would ease the life of thousand of hounded Georgian and Russian citizens,” Mikheil Saakashvili said in an interview to the Interfax news agency after his talks with Mr. Putin.

Upon his arrival to Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili told Rustavi 2 Television that Vladimir Putin plans to visit Georgia in October in order sign a framework agreement between the two countries which is expected to shape many aspects of the two countries’ bilateral ties, including military and security issues.

The Georgian President said that the Georgian proposal over the setting up of a joint anti-terrorist center in exchange for the withdrawal from Georgia of two Russian  military bases was also discussed. “We agreed that the consideration of this proposal will be continued at the Security Ministry level,” Mikheil Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili emphasized that the prevention of terrorist acts and the gathering of analytical information will be the main goal of the center, but was quick to point out that the anti-terrorist center will not be established in Batumi or Akhalkalaki, where  the two Russian military bases currently reside.

In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Mikheil Saakashvili said that the issue of Russian military bases “has already been solved by the OSCE Istanbul treaty,” which obliges Moscow to pull out its troops from Georgia.

“But the duration of the presence of these bases demanded by Russia [at least nine years] is absolutely unacceptable for us,” he added.

“However, we also understand Russia’s concern that it is important to secure normal conditions for their withdrawal. We also understand the technical problems involved in the pull out. It is very hard to talks about particular terms or dates, but I think Russian bases will go much sooner than many think,” Mikheil Saakashvili said.

The situation in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia was also discussed during the talks. After his return from Moscow, Mikheil Saakashvili told reporters that “separatists [in South Ossetia] cannot rely on Russian help.”

He also said “Russia will not interfere in Georgia’s internal affairs.” In an interview with the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, Saakashvili said “bilateral ties with Georgia, not relations with Tskhinvali [the capital of self-styled South Ossetian Republic], are more important for Moscow.”

During the visit, Saakashvili often repeated that Georgia has no plans to use forces in South Ossetia, but also added that “we will not tolerate the disintegration of Georgia.” He again pressed the issue of setting up a joint, Georgian-Russian checkpoint at Roki pass which links breakaway South Ossetia with Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.  The intention of this checkpoint will be to, as Tbilisi puts it,  sever “a major smuggling route” in the separatist region.

“We are determined to take control of the Roki Tunnel and establish a border checkpoint there,” Saakashvili said during an interview with the Interfax news agency.

However, the Russian side shows no signs of enthusiasm towards this proposal. The Russian Foreign Ministry has recently issued a statement saying that Tskhinvali’s position should also be taken into account while considering the proposed checkpoint. De facto authorities in South Ossetia have already rejected proposal.

President Saakashvili was visiting Moscow in order to participate in an informal summit of the heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). It was his first ever CIS summit. Before his talks with Putin, Saakashvili hailed the summit by saying that “the CIS summit is an important stage for the voicing of Georgia’s positions.”

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