Russian Foreign Minister discusses improving relations
By Christina Tashkevich
Monday, January 21
Shortly after President Mikheil Saakashvili offered Russia a “hand of friendship” in his inauguration speech yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is ready to move from words to actions on improving relations with Georgia.
However, Lavrov did not elaborate on what this might involve, nor did he publicly comment on the possibility of lifting the trade embargo that has been in force since 2006.
“Four years ago we reached out with a hand of friendship and cooperation to Russia. I want to do it again today. We are outreaching a hand of partnership to our northern neighbor,” Saakashvili said at his inauguration ceremony outside parliament.
Meeting with Lavrov afterwards, the freshly-minted president expressed hope that the two countries have “a chance to start everything once again.”
The previous day US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza underlined the importance of good relations with Russia, which he said would aid Georgia’s NATO ambitions.
Lavrov presented Saakshvili with a letter of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I hope for the constructive development of relations between our countries,” the letter reads.
Lavrov also met with Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II and discussed the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity among other issues.
The Patriarch said Russia should be actively involved in the speedy settlement of Georgia’s conflicts.
“Separatism is a contagious disease, and this problem should be quickly resolved. I would very much like this problem to be overcome during the presidency of Vladimir Putin,” the Patriarch said.
Lavrov responded by stating that Russia wants to see the resolution of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts.
“Any destabilization in the region is dangerous, as the stakes are very high here,” he said, adding, “Ossetian and Abkhaz people should understand the Georgian administration’s wish to see them as a part of the rest of the country, to ensure their rights.”
He later met with opposition leaders. New Rights leader David Gamkrelidze said after the meeting that Russia is ready to cooperate with Georgia on a number of issues.
“It’s ready to lift the embargo, to improve the visa regime and to help Georgia improve relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he said.
“During all the meetings in Tbilisi—with Saakashvili, the Patriarch and the opposition representatives, the Russian government’s sincere desire to improve relations with Georgia has been confirmed,” Lavrov told journalists.