Chief of Russia’s consumer protection agency, RosPotrebNadzor, Gennady Onishchenko, accused Georgia for “economic sabotage” by bringing African Swine Fever (ASF) into Russia’s southern regions three years ago.
“ASF came to us from Georgia. First, of course, to [Russia’s North] Ossetia, and then to the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions. There are signs that this situation is artificially injected. This is economic sabotage, Krasnodar region fails to overcome it for the past three years,” Onishchenko was quoted by Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies.
While speaking about Georgia at a news conference in Moscow on April 9, Onishchenko, who in 2006 ordered ban of import of Georgian wines and mineral waters citing consumer safety concerns, also mentioned the U.S.-funded biological research facility, Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL), in Tbilisi outskirts. The lab was inaugurated in March, 2011.
Onishchenko said he could not understand why, as he put it, “military medics” and “epidemiologists” from the United States were stationed in Georgia “at our borders”. He also stressed that the U.S.-Georgian lab’s director was former head of Georgia’s intelligence. Anna Zhvania, director of the CPHRL, held various senior positions in the Georgian government in the past and was chief of intelligence service for sixteen months till February, 2008.
On March 21 during a nomination hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the next U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, said that CPHRL was “an extremely important project” both in terms of non-proliferation and in terms of public health, animal disease control and agriculture.
He said that the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi “is supporting the project actively” and “the U.S. army plans to actually station some people there to work with Georgians to make sure that the laboratory properly carries out its functions.”
President Saakashvili discussed the lab’s operation with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, Andrew C. Weber, when he visited Tbilisi last month.
During the press conference, the head of Russia’s RosPotrebNadzor also spoke of prospects for return of Borjomi mineral water back on the Russian market. He said that his agency was ready to send experts to Georgia “to examine” Borjomi factories, but they would require “an official guarantees” from Tbilisi in the view of tense relations between the two country.
Georgia’s Economy Minister, Vera Kobalia, said in March that Russia’s RosPotrebNadzor required no special invitation from Georgia to send its experts. “We have visa-free rules with Russia and Onishchenko does not require our permission, he can arrive whenever he wants,” Kobalia said and added, that she was not waiting for Onishchenko’s arrival.
Borjomi mineral water maker, IDS Borjomi International, has been in talks with the RosPotrebNadzor, in recent months over possible resumption of import of Borjomi to Russia.