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Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has made a great personal contribution to spoiling Russian-Georgian relations (currently he is nothing but a lame duck on the domestic political scene) has come out with more anti-Russian rhetoric. His escapade has put a big question mark over the chances of Georgian wines’ return to the Russian market, something Georgian wine producers have been looking forward to with great impatience.
At the beginning of 2013 the head of Russia’s consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko and director of Georgia’s National Wine Agency, Levan Davitashvili, declared that the embargo, imposed in 2007, might be lifted as early as spring. This is a precondition for the resumption of export to the Russian market. The negotiations have been tough-going: inspections have been repeatedly postponed due to some routine formalities.
However, at the beginning of this week Russian specialists finally arrived in Tbilisi. They planned to inspect more than 40 enterprises prepared to resume the export of their products to Russia. The group includes the bottlers of Borjomi and Nebeglavi mineral waters. Russian specialists enjoyed traditional Georgian hospitality and every condition for doing the job right was created for them. Everything had proceeded smoothly until President Mikhail Saakashvili took the floor at a meeting with the media on Tuesday evening.
He warned of the risks the restoration of relations with Russia to normal would be fraught with. He said the Russians would take away everything valuable. Saakashvili suspects that if Moscow lets Georgian products be sold on the Russian markets, it will thereby lay hands on a leverage to put pressures on Georgia.
“Gennady Onishchenko does not feel enough respect for us to come here in person. According to what he said himself he sees the Georgians as idlers and truants,” Saakashvili said. “Instead, his delegation arrived and our officials are now standing on their hind legs and wine factories representatives are pouring wine for Russian inspectors with trembling hands and ingratiatingly look at them whether they will like it or not.”
“Why haven’t we still rid ourselves of this complex of a slave – the wish to please the Russians?” he asked.
Reaction from the head of Rospotrebnadzor was quick. “If insults of Russian specialists and other actions hindering their normal work continue, then the possibility our specialists may cut short their visit will remain on the agenda.”
Georgia’s ruling coalition slammed Saakashvili’s statement as inadequate. “Saakashvili’s statement was a disgrace,” one of the leaders of the parliamentary majority, Levan Berdzenishvili, told the media. Parliamentary deputy speaker Manana Kobakhidze believes that “Mikhail Saakashvili was using a vocabulary of hatred and his words should be taken seriously.”
Earlier, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili hailed the Russian experts’ visit. He voiced the certainty Georgian wines would certainly be allowed to return to the Russian market. He blamed the previous Georgian authorities for creating artificial obstructions to the resumption of Georgian wine export to Russia.
“All of the latest statements by Saakashvili and his team indicate that they are in panic and unable to control the situation in the country,” the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta quotes the leader of the People’s Orthodox Movement of Georgia, political scientist Malkhaz Gulashvili as saying. “They have lost everything – both power and influence. This is precisely what explains his provocative and insulting statements towards Russia.”
He is certain that Saakashvili’s remarks are aimed at upsetting any contacts between Georgia’s new authorities and Russia and “to drag through the mire the people who have been trying to mend bilateral ties.”
“Saakashvili looks like an old toothless snake in the corner. He has no poison. He would like to bite someone, but he can’t even leave even a scratch,” Gulashvili remarked.
MOSCOW, February 28