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Karasin hopes occupied regions to benefit from Georgia-EU visa waiver

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, February 9
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigori Karasin, believes it is premature to speak about introducing visa-free travel for Georgia, and hopes the people living in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali) will benefit from Georgia-EU visa-free travel.

Karasin made the statement on Tuesday, at a meeting with the Georgian Prime Minister’s Specially Representative in Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, in Prague.

"We are not against a visa-free regime for Georgian citizens, but we don’t have any diplomatic relations," the Russian diplomat stressed.

However, Karasin welcomed the decision of the European Parliament last week to lift visa requirements for Georgia.

He expressed hope that this will help to solve the issue on "unblocking" the citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who currently are not given travel visas to Europe.

The two breakaway regions of Georgia were recognized by Russia as independent states in August 2008.

“This issue was raised during the Geneva International Discussions. Residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should also be granted travel visas to Europe,” Karasin said.

The Russian diplomat also commented on the issue of Georgian Vice-Colonel Giorgi Tsertsvadze, who was detained by the Ukrainian authorities in January on the basis of an Interpol red notice requested by Russia.

Karasin says that Tsertsvadze is a “criminal”, and Russia will not stop demanding his extradition.

“I know Gia Tsertsvadze’s case; it concerns a serious criminal offense, which he committed on the territory of Russia in 2003,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said.

Georgian envoy Abashidze said that Tertsvadze’s case was not on the agenda of the meeting format. However, he raised the issue of a Georgian citizen, Giorgi Giunashvili, who was sentenced by the so-called Tskhinvali court to 20 years imprisonment for alleged military activities against South Ossetian soldiers.

As for a visa-free regime issue with Russia, Abashidze said that the absence of diplomatic ties between Georgia and Russia has nothing to do with visa-liberalization for Georgia.

“We do not see direct links between visa-liberalization and diplomatic relations. We abolished the visa regime for Russian citizens without having any diplomatic ties with Russia,” said Abashidze.

The Georgian diplomat also stated that dialogue with Russia is one of the contributing factors in Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration process.

Trade-economic issues, transport, communication, certain humanitarian and customs monitoring problems were also discussed during the meeting.

Russia introduced visas for Georgia in 2000. Later, Georgia took a similar step. In 2004, Georgia unilaterally eased visa restrictions for Russian citizens who received an opportunity to obtain one-to three-month visas upon their arrival in the country. In 2011, Georgia granted visa-free entry for a period of up to 90 days for Russian citizens residing in North Caucasus republics and entering the country via the Kazbegi checkpoint. In March 2012, Georgia completely waived visas for Russian citizens.