Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, said on Monday that first meeting with a Russian diplomat last week as part of an attempt to resume direct talks showed “dialogue is possible.”
Zurab Abashidze met Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Switzerland on December 14 and agreed to continue direct dialogue “on a regular basis” to address trade, economy and humanitarian issues.
“Dialogue is better than being in the state of permanent confrontation,” Abashidze said. “We took this step [to launch direct dialogue] because we cannot stay in permanent confrontation with Russia. It is an elementary truth. To say the truth, I do not know another country, which has the same relations with a big and difficult neighbor like Georgia has.”
He said that it was the will of the Georgian voters to “find a common language with Russia.”
“The attitude of a great part of the population remains the same and you are familiar with the results of recent public opinion survey about it,” Abashidze told journalists at a news conference on December 17.
“We also took this step because our Western partners were calling on us for many years to start a dialogue with Russia and to try to find a common language,” he said, adding that the launch of the direct talks was “welcomed by our western partners.”
“I have meetings with them [Western diplomats and officials] almost on a daily basis and I hear only the words of support, certainly with recommendations and proposals,” Abashidze added.
He also said that readiness for launching direct talks was also expressed by Georgia’s previous authorities too “through numerous statements like this: ‘we are ready to meet Russian representatives at any time, at any place, without any preconditions’ and that’s right position.”
He also stressed that “the issues of our sovereignty, territorial integrity and free choice in international affairs will not and cannot be a subject for discussion.”
“We are taking this step because new threats are facing our difficult region, which has abundance of conflicts,” he said. “Our task is to minimize the risks for the security of our country.”
“We have started a dialogue as its only alternative is deadlock and permanent tensions. In this dialogue we mean listening to each other, exchange of opinions, looking for agreements through compromises.”
Abashidze said that by launching of this dialogue Georgia was entering on a difficult path and “no one should have an illusion that this process will bring quick results.”
“We know in advance that we will hear lots of bitter criticism, various opinions and assessments, but we should turn it into a positive part of this process,” he said that added that he was open to recommendations.
He also underlined that by launching this new format of dialogue, Georgia’s new government was not in any way intending to undermine Geneva international discussions – talks launched after the August, 2008 war, which are co-chaired by EU, UN and OSCE representatives and involve negotiators from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as representatives from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi. Karasin is Russia’s negotiator in the Geneva talks. Abashidze said there were no signs indicating that Karasin was going to withdraw his participation in the Geneva talks and by doing so downgrading Russian involvement in the format.
Abashidze said that if and when those issues related with trade and economy were resolved, the negotiators in direct talks would probably get to the point when “painful issues”, related to the breakaway regions, might also be addressed.
“But we should be careful here in order to avoid duplication of the Geneva format – these two formats of dialogue should be clearly separated from each other,” Abashidze said.
In early March, 2012 after Georgia unilaterally lifted visa rules for Russian citizens, Moscow responded that it would reciprocate if Georgia revised its law on occupied territories. At the time the Russian Foreign Ministry said, that Georgia’s law on occupied territories was making “significant part” of Russian citizens subject to criminal prosecution upon the arrival in Georgia. It was referring to the provision of the law which makes it illegal in Georgia to enter into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia from territories other than those controlled by Tbilisi; the law also sets whole set of exceptions to this rule. Violation of the law can result into a fine or a jail term from two to four years.
Abashidze said on December 17, that amending of the law was beyond his mandate, but also added: “If some signs for possible positive changes emerge, I personally think that we may think about introducing changes in some elements of this law.”
He said that no date for the next meeting with Karasin had yet been set, but added that he was in touch with the Russian side.