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New Foreign Minister ready to talk to Russia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, December 9
New Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze has said Tbilisi is ready to restore relations with Moscow but not give up its breakaway regions.

In an interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant, Vashadze stated that “There has never been a war that has ended without there being negotiations. During many wars negotiations were conducted alongside military actions.” He added that only three things will not be discussed during Georgian-Russian talks, the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. ”All other issues are up for discussion” added the Minister on December 8.

“Russia has put itself in this deadlock,” Vashadze said. “But we, hand in hand with Russia, are ready to try and find a way out of this situation.” Being directly asked about the possibility of meeting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the new Minister refused to confirm or deny this possibility.

He considers that the possibility that Russia might take back its decision to recognise the Georgian breakaway regions still exists. Vashadze pointed out that no Government in Georgia will agree to the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “We will never have a Government which will agree that more than a half million people should remain refugees in their own land,” he said.

Grigol Vashadze is a professional diplomat. He graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Soviet times, and worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of USSR from 1981 to 1988. Before his appointment as Foreign Minister Vashadze worked as Minister of Culture and Deputy Foreign Minister, from which post he was appointed to replace Eka Tkeshelashvili on December 5.

A personal detail underlined by the Georgian and Russian media is that Vashadze has dual citizenship, Georgian and Russian. Vashadze has stated that he didn’t renounce his Russian citizenship after the August Georgian-Russian war because he has “the citizenship of Russia and not of the Russian Government. The Government will pass, but the Russian people will remain and make decisions about what happened in August.” The new Foreign Minister doesn’t deny he has a lot of personal connections with officials in Russian diplomatic services. “Some of the senior figures in the Russian Foreign Ministry are my friends,” said Vashadze, adding that he did not lose touch with them even after the war.

Kommersant writes that Moscow considers this appointment a positive step. The newspaper quotes “a high ranking Russian diplomat” as saying - “He [Vashadze] knows our diplomats very well. It’s possible to work professionally with him. Of course he is not a friend of Russia but at least he is an experienced man.”

Concerning Georgia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic alliance the new Minister stated that this process will continue despite the decision of the NATO Ministerial not to grant a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia. “Georgia didn’t get MAP, however it got everything that is included in MAP. The title doesn’t matter now.” However independent Georgian analyst Gia Khukhashvili considers that MAP rejection does matter for Georgia and the appointment of Vashadze is connected with that.

“Vashadze’s appointment is a kind of message to Washington: if you don’t give us MAP, we will start negotiations with Russia,” said Khukhashvili, talking to The Messenger. However the analyst doesn’t think anything will change in Russian-Georgian relations. “Vashadze was Deputy Foreign Minister during the August war and in reality he has been conducting our foreign policy. The time for negotiations with Russia has passed and the new Minister will not change this.”