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Russia-Georgia relations gradually heal

February 02, 2012, 17:31 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Although relations between Russia and Georgia remain at a very low level and officials continue to exchange reproaches, the bonds disrupted after the 2008 war begin to heal slowly but surely. The people of both countries are tired of the confrontation, experts say. The air links between Russia and Georgia, which were disrupted more than three years ago in the wake of hostilities in South Ossetia, have in fact been resumed. Although the air authorities continue to refer to flights between Moscow and Tbilisi as charter ones, Russia’s Sibir Airlines and Georgia’s Airzena openly sell tickets on their websites, RBC reports. In the meantime, the two countries still have no diplomatic relations. Following the August 2008 war Russia unilaterally recognized the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Tbilisi still regards as Georgia’s territory. In retaliation, Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Moscow and declared the conflict zones as occupied territories. Since then at the official level the relations have been confined to exchanges of caustic remarks between politicians and officials. However, certain shifts for the better begun to be felt. Direct flights serve as sort of an indication of the relations level between the two countries. They have been sacrificed more than once, each time Russian-Georgian relations worsened. For the first time direct air links were suspended in the autumn of 2006, when Georgia detained five Russian military officials. Later, restrictions on flights by Georgian airlines to Russia were imposed at the beginning of 2008, following a spy scandal. Lastly, the air traffic was frozen in August 2008 due to the armed conflict in South Ossetia.Although a direct flight from Moscow to Tbilisi is quite expensive - about 15,500 rubles (500 dollars) - and flights via Kiev or Minsk are 50 percent cheaper, tickets from Georgia to Russia and back are in great demand. Russia has a very large Georgian community.Air traffic is not the sole sphere of Russian-Georgian relations where a warming is observed. Late last year there were speculations about a resumption of the import Georgian wines and mineral water. It is expected that the supplies may begin within months. The ban on Georgia’s mineral water Borjomi and wines was introduced in 2006 in protest against their quality.Besides, Georgia last year was visited by 278,500 tourists, which is 63 percent more than in 2010.Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Moscow was prepared to restore diplomatic relations with Tbilisi, but he would never do business with the current Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili. As he met with a student audience at the department of journalism of the Moscow State University, Medvedev said, “There is only one person I would not like to do business with. You understand pretty well who I have in mind. I shall not agree to meet him or shake hands with him. As for all other politicians, and the Georgian people in general, I would very much like to see this period of estrangement to end as soon as possible.”Medvedev recalled that air links had been resumed and within the WTO a more active exchange of goods would begin.“People-to-people contacts should be facilitated, too. I fully agree with that. But it is essential to have reciprocal movement by the Georgian authorities,” Medvedev said.“The restoration of diplomatic relations with Russia will happen only when the so-called embassies, opened illegally in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, would be closed down. The worsening of diplomatic relations with Russia is not a whim. That step was taken for the sole reason Russia had intruded into the territory of Georgia and 20 percent of its territory – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – continue to be occupied,” Georgian presidential speaker, Manana Mandzhgaladze, said in the wake of Medvedev’s statement.The director of the human rights and anti-corruption programs at the Russian Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Moscow), Andrei Kalikh, believes that “Russia has no foreign policy towards Georgia.” Particularly so in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election in Russia. “Nobody knows what a future president will wish,” the website quotes him as saying. “Nevertheless we continue to exchange harsh statements. Any foreign policy action by Georgia is interpreted as anti-Russian. Regrettably, it is also the other way round. Georgian officials have reacted harshly, and to my mind, without a sufficient reason, to some inadequate statements by our leadership. Of late, one has been able to see systematic quarrels and exchanges of verbal digs and provocations.”The human rights activist believes that the conflict is being fuelled artificially on both sides with tough and provocative statements and replies to them.“The situation is artificial at least because Georgia and Russia are not enemies,” he said.Russia’s civil society, he said, has a very negative attitude to the worsening of Russian-Georgian relations as a whole.Georgia’s former president, Eduard Shevardnadze, last Monday said that his country needed change for restoring the dialogue with Russia.“We are in a stalemate. Change is a vital need. At least because we need to have a leader Russia would be prepared to talk to. This dialogue would be the main factor for having the lost territories back,” he said.

MOSCOW, February 2.