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Moscow and Tskhinvali sign visa-free travel agreement

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, February 2
Russia and Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia signed an agreement to institute visa-free movement between the two on Monday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the de facto South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Jioev signed the document in Moscow.

“This is a very important political act, which will promote the further development of our strategic partnership,” Jioev said after the signing ceremony at a joint press conference. “Implementing the agreement in real life will assist in establishing the transparency of the trips of our citizens and resolve many problems at the border,” RIA Novosti quoted Jioev as saying. The Russian Foreign Minister said the agreement could make the trips of the citizens of the “two states” “more pleasant.”

Tbilisi has described the signing of the agreement as a “cynical step.” At the traditional Monday briefing Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said that the international community knows that Moscow is distributing Russian passports in Georgia’s occupied regions. “In some cases this is being done forcefully, against the will of the local population. This is one more piece of obvious evidence that Russia is violating international norms,” she said.

Signing a non-visa agreement between Russia and so-called South Ossetia is “ridiculous”, Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili has said. “It is merely a bad joke, nobody in the international community takes this seriously. Most residents of the de facto republic have Russian passports, so Russia is signing a non-visa agreement with its own citizens, which is quite strange,” he said.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration Davit Darchiashvili also criticised Russia’s move, saying that “no matter how hard Russia tries to pretend that there is such a thing as the 'independence' of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, it will not be able to alter the reality, which is that those territories are occupied.” “All the instances of Russia ignoring the norms of international legislation are being collated and sooner or later this will bring negative results for Russia,” the MP stated.

Through their relations with Russia Abkhazia and South Ossetia should gain the attributes of independent states, Aleksey Vlasov, head of the information-analytical centre on political issues in the post-Soviet region, told The Messenger. “Through signing a non-visa regime with Russia Abkhazia and South Ossetia create strong partnership relations with Moscow and acquire the status of independent states,” he said.

Tbilisi has called on international organisations to give an “adequate reaction” to Russia’s behaviour. Relations between the Russian Federation and the “puppet regimes” are becoming more and more a “caricature”, leader of the Parliamentary minority Christian-Democratic Movement Giorgi Targamadze has said. Russia is trying to remind Georgia and the international community of the 'independence' of these two entities, he noted. “These actions should be reacted to. Reactions are usually quite quick to make,” Targamadze said. “One example is the US Secretary of State's speech in Paris, in which she expressed the West’s firm position that Russia has an obligation to withdraw its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he added.