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Russia’s plans to lift visa requirements for Georgia a step towards normalising ties

December 18, 2015, 16:29 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
©  TASS/Zurab Dzhavakhadze

MOSCOW, December 18. /TASS/. Russia’s intention to scrap visa requirements for Georgian nationals is an important step towards improving bilateral relations but there is a rather long way towards their full normalisation, experts say.

A lot will depend on the domestic political situation in Georgia, while it is already clear that people start being tired of "moving towards the West" and seek better ties with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the annual marathon news conference on Thursday that Moscow was ready to cancel visa requirements for Georgians.

"As for the visa regime, yes, we think we are ready to abolish the visa regime with Georgia," the president said. Putin also said the former Georgian leadership was fully responsible for the deterioration of relations with Moscow.

"We were not the initiators of the break-up of these relations, but we are ready to restore them," he said.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has called Russia’s readiness to lift visa requirements "a step in the right direction", recalling that Tbilisi unilaterally canceled the visa regime for Russian citizens in 2012.

Russia introduced the visa regime with Georgia in December 2000 amid the threat that terrorists could come from the Pankisi Gorge, a valley region in Georgia. However, Moscow later significantly eased the procedure of issuing visas to Georgian citizens.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia as Moscow recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 after Tbilisi’s armed aggression against Tskhinval.

Vladimir Yevseyev, who heads the Eurasian integration department of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Studies Institute, told TASS: "There are possibilities of improving bilateral relations, but they are limited so far."

"Lifting a visa regime is a stage but this is a stage of a very long way," he said. The move to scrap visa requirements would encourage economic ties and ease extra tensions as a significant Georgian diaspora lives in Moscow and the visa regime creates problems for them.

Putin’s statement on the possibility of lifting visa requirements will give an additional impetus, but it is yet early to speak about restoring diplomatic relations, the expert said. "Now, the so-called Abashidze-Karasin commission is working on solving economic issues, but its activity does not involve political issues."

To speak about a breakthrough in Russian-Georgian relations, there is a need for a meeting of leaders of the two countries that could have an informal character, Yevseyev said.

"Informal leader Bidzina Ivanishvili should take part in it from the Georgian side. All the other figures there - the prime minister and the president - are not rather free, and Ivanishvili exerts pressure on them in many respects."

The Georgian Dream ruling coalition includes the Republican Party that is pro-American, Yevseyev said. "The Americans in fact finance it, and it takes a harsh anti-Russian stance. This party does not have a serious influence in Georgian society, but the US blocks its exclusion from the ruling coalition."

"In autumn next year, Georgia will hold parliamentary elections and it is highly probable that the Georgian Dream wins again," the expert said. "But still the coalition’s makeup is likely to change somehow. Now someone suggests that it will include Nino Burjanadze’s party that calls for improving ties with Russia. This coalition is most likely to be less anti-Russian."

The expert said Georgian society was seriously tired of the so-called "movement towards the West" as Georgia does not gain much from it.

"NATO does not guarantee the return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is an understanding among the people that the movement towards the West is not necessary and there is a need to somehow build relations with Russia."

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