MOSCOW, January 21. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia is open to close relations with Georgia, but only if its leaders in Tbilisi accept realities which have developed between the two neighbor states since 2008, Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday.
“The basic and principal problem is that we (Russia) cannot change realities which shaped up after (former Georgian President) Mikhail Saakashvili unleashed war,” Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.
Recognition followed Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, engaging Russian peace-making operations in August 2008. Georgia maintains that recognition infringed its territorial integrity.
“The problem of Georgia’s refusal to accept the emerged realities will be further slowing us down and restraining our ties,” Lavrov said.
Russia's top diplomat said, however, said that positive changes in relations between the two countries had been taking place recently, particularly in trade, transportation and tourism.
Lavrov added that in 2013, the volume of visas issued for Georgian nationals to visit Russia increased by 40% against the previous year.
Border crossings between Russia and Georgia intensified after Moscow lifted bans last year on imports of Georgian wine, mineral water, brandy and other goods. Last year, Georgia also unilaterally cancelled the visa regime with Russia, prompting Russian tourists to travel to inexpensive Georgian mountain ski resorts and make tourist trips to Tbilisi.
Following election of Georgia's new parliament in 2012, tension between Moscow and Tbilisi began to thaw when then-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili called normalization of relations with Russia one of the country's top priorities.
Last month, during his annual news conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia may return to a visa-free regime with Georgia.