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Mixed reactions in Georgia to Russia’s move to lift embargo

By Ana Datiashvili and Shorena Labadze
Tuesday, April 22
Georgians have had mixed reactions to Moscow’s order to end visa restrictions for Georgian citizens and begin talks on lifting the trade embargo imposed two years ago.

Some remain skeptical that any real change is about to happen—dismissing Russian remarks as political posturing—while others are optimistic that the embargo may finally be about to end.

Wine companies, who stand to dramatically improve their sales if the Russian market reopens to Georgian products, were divided. Dimitri Lebanidze, who heads the trade section of the Kindzmarauli wine company, is confident that their bottles will soon be shipping out to Russia.

However, Soso Gioshvili, the owner of Alaverdi, once a major exporter of wine to Russia, is not holding out hope.

“I don’t see any serious step made by the Russian side that will make me think Georgian wine and other products will be back on the Russian market,” Gioshvili said on April 20. “Putin’s statement means nothing for my business.”

Tbilisi students seem equally pessimistic. Tamuna Tsertsvadze, a 20-year-old student, says Russia has lied to Georgia in the past, so there is no guarantee that it will follow through on its statements.

“We should pray that Russia will stop the embargo, as we know what kind of measures they can take against us,” she said.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze says Russia’s move is a reaction to the harsh criticism it received from the West after it announced last week that it would increase ties with Georgia’s separatist regions.

“This does not have anything to do with economics, this is political statement that is meant for the West,” Sakvarelidze told the paper, adding that he thinks Russia is trying not to appear as an aggressive state.

The embargo was imposed in stages in 2006 as relations between Georgian and Russia deteriorated.

Russia was formerly the largest export market for Georgian wine and mineral water. In 2005, Georgia exported more than USD 60 million in wine to Russia, according to the state Statistics Department.