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Moscow ratifies visa free travel agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, March 25
The Russian State Duma ratified agreements between Russia and Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on visa free travel. The agreement with the de facto Abkhazian government was signed in October 2009 and with the de facto South Ossetian authorities in February 2010. Russian officials have hailed the ratification of the documents, saying that they are aimed at “strengthening a legal base” for Russian-Abkhazian and Russian-South Ossetian relations, as well as creating more “favorable” conditions for developing and deepening mutual contacts between the people. “They [the agreements] absolutely respond to the interests of Russia and affirms the course on developing cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” news agency Apsnypress quoted Russian State Duma official as saying.

The Georgian side has condemned the agreements, describing it as a “cynical and a ridiculous step.” The Georgian Foreign Ministry reacted on signing of the agreement with South Ossetia and claimed that by concluding visa free agreements with Georgia’s breakaway regions, Russia is “violating international norms.” “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,” MP from the National Movement, Davit Darchiashvili said when commenting the signing of the agreement about visa free travel between Russia and de facto South Ossetia.

Meanwhile the de facto Abkhazian acting PM, Alexander Ankvab met UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Anti Turunen in Sukhumi, Apsnypress reports. The sides discussed the issues related to the Geneva talks and the meetings in frames of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism. UN Secretary General’s representative said that the issue of possible restoration of bus routes along the Enguri Bridge was discussed at the last IPRM meeting on March 22. “This is the issue that can be discussed in details at the next meetings,” Turunen noted.

Ankvab and Turunen touched upon the issue of the return of IDPs to their homes and the property rights as well, according to Apsnypress. “The IDPs who were able to return have already returned. The other issue is if the international community wants to evaluate this,” Ankvab said “The Abkhazian side does not deny that in the post-war years the relevant structures made some mistakes, including some serious ones, which led to illegal deprivation of properties from certain citizens. Of course these people can raise the issue of restitution. This is the responsibility of the Abkhazian state, because the decisions were being made with the name of the Abkhazian Republic,” Ankvab said, adding that the “Abkhazian government” cannot be responsible for the “abandoned property”.

When commenting on the claims of the de facto Abkhazian authorities on the purported facts of “kidnapping” Gali residents Kobalia and Matkava, Turunen said that “these issues are politically very sensitive and the sides failed to agree on this subject at the IPRM meeting. We decided however, to continue discussions and find out what happened in fact.” Next meeting in frames of Incidents Prevention and Response Mechanism will be held on May 4, Turunen told journalists.