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Russian Foreign Ministry attacks neutral travel documents

By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, February 9
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has released a statement asserting that Georgia’s neutral travel documents and identification cards are a "scam" designed by Tbilisi to mislead residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“These neutral passports are not quite neutral in fact. Georgia is indicated under the country code, and the Georgian Interior Ministry is the issuing body,” reads the statement, noting that the absence of overt Georgian state symbols is an attempt to deceive residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The statement refers to the documents as an “unworthy scam,” which intends to "push" the breakaway regions back under Tbilisi's control. The Ministry asserts that out that only approximately 50 of these neutral passports have been issued, suggesting that residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not interested in cooperation with Georgia. It referred to Georgia's "barbaric military attack in August 2008" as undermining the country's "soft engagement" policy with the regions.

The statement also addresses the fact that allowing residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to obtain travel documents issued by international organizations was suggested long before Moscow’s recognition of Tskhinvali and Sokhumi. “But it was Georgia who blocked such a possibility and it largely contributed to mass requests for Russian citizenship from the residents of these republics".

Recently, de-facto Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab ordered the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry to expel all those international organizations that encourage residents to apply for Georgia's neutral travel documents.

As Shota Malashkhia, Chairman of Temporary Commission on Territorial Integrity told the Messenger, residents of the breakaway regions accept both neutral and Georgian passports quite extensively. “They accept both passports, they however do it covertly, as they may face some problems at home. Neutral passports are not yet a complete travel document, as the government is working on bilateral agreements with other states to accept these documents". When asked for the exact number of Georgian passports issued to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Malashkhia said that this information is not publicly available.

According to political analyst Giorgi Khutsishvili, the goal of these passports is to replace the broad acceptance of Russian passports. However, the project has not been as fruitful as it was expected to be. “This project was elaborated two years ago within government strategy. There were hopes that many of them [residents] will accept it, and thereby replace Russian passports. In reality, only people who have personal problems accept these passports, and the majority of them are Georgians living in Gali,” he said. He added that the neutral travel documents will not replace Russian passports since there are no regulations or incentives which encourage residents of the breakaway regions to refuse Russian documentation.

Analyst Paata Zakareishvili is also skeptical about the neutral passports. “It is obvious that it is a Georgian passport. Those [Abkhazian and South Ossetian residents] who express readiness to accept such a neutral document would rather directly accept a Georgian passport so as not to complicate the deal," he remarked. However, Zakareishvili also called the Russian Foreign Ministry’s assertion that Georgia is attempting to mislead Abkhazian and South Ossetian residents "absurd".