Russian Foreign Minister criticizes law on occupied territories
By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, March 15
Russia continues to haggle over pre-conditions needed in order to reciprocate the visa-free regime for Georgian citizens.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, re-affirmed on Wednesday that Moscow is ready to annul the visa regime with Georgia only if Georgian authorities repeal a "discriminatory" law on entry into the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, RIA Novosti reports.
One of the provisions in the law on occupied territories, which was introduced several weeks after the Russian-Georgian ceasefire agreement on August 12, 2008, makes it illegal in Georgia to enter into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia from territories other than those controlled by Tbilisi; the law also sets a series of exceptions to this rule. Violation of the law can result into a fine or a jail term from two to four years.
“When he [President Mikheil Saakashvili] announced that all Russian citizens could travel to Georgia without a visa, he forgot to mention that a law ‘on occupied territories’ is in force in Georgia, according to which anyone who has visited South Ossetia or Abkhazia since [the 2008 August] war, which was launched by Saakashvili, will face criminal liability in Georgia with a jail term from two to four years,” Lavrov asserted in an address to Russian lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament. He added that two Russian citizens have already suffered from that law and are serving a sentence in Georgia.
“That’s why we said in response that we are ready to introduce a visa-free regime on mutual agreement, but first let the law be revoked, otherwise our citizens should realize where they are traveling and what [is being] threatened,” he said.
The Minister also said that Moscow's proposal to Tbilisi regarding the restoration of diplomatic ties was also made in the context of visa-related issues.
Georgian officials say that Moscow has no intention to annul their visa regime, as its pre-conditions are unacceptable for the Georgian side.
“It has appeared once again the hysterical approach of the Russian establishment, which proves their weak position regarding this issue. As for the threats on Russian citizens, it would be better to ask their citizens over one year, who considers Georgia as a part of Europe, freedom, and democracy,” said Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Akaki Minashvili, adding that Russian authorities are trying to move public attention to foreign issues, but lack any concrete arguments.
Political analyst Zurab Abashidze says that Moscow has not changed its approach at all, and no changes can be anticipated in the upcoming years of Vladimir Putin's second presidency. However, he noted that it would be reasonable not put criminal liability to Russian citizens who enter Georgia from territory not controlled by the Georgian government.