Russia, Georgia: Visas, Wine and the WTO

I've translated a post by cyxymu, apropos of Russia easing some of the visa restrictions on Georgians (possibly related to Georgia's role in Russia's WTO accession). Having a visa regime is an unusual situation between Russia and a former Soviet republic that's a CIS member; however, it's been the situation – with occasional talk of easing the requirement – for Georgians and Russians since around 2000, and has been an element of Russia's support for the secessionist areas of Georgia as well as – more recently – a representation of increased tensions between the two countries. Now it looks like Russia will apparently allow certain categories of Georgians to receive visas:

Only a naive person could believe that the Russian authorities decided to loosen the visa blockade of Georgia just out of kindness. No, with this action they wanted to sweeten the arrival of the delegation from Russia to negotiate Russia's WTO accession. The blockade is the stick, and the issuance of visas to certain groups of Georgian citizens is a small carrot.

However, Georgia, I think, will continue to insist on the legalization of all border checkpoints on the Russo-Georgian border. Recently Russia has illegally opened checkpoints on the [River] Psou and at the Roksk tunnel, which Georgia has declared closed some time ago. And Georgia demands that Georgian customs officers occupy these checkpoints.

One other disagreement is the Russian ban on the import of Georgian Borzhomi [mineral water] and Georgian wines, based on trumped-up reasons. How can Georgia agree to Russia's WTO accession without the resolution of these problems? I don't think Georgia will agree.

I of course do not intend to suggest that WTO membership is so necessary to the Russian people, but it is necessary for the oligarchs, and therefore for Putin, and he pressures Georgia to admit Russia to the WTO because his oligarchs are losing nearly a billion dollars a year.

Cyxymu is the most widely read and commented on blog about Abkhazia that I've seen. It's written, I believe, by a refugee (or, rather, internally displaced person) from the conflict. The blog's full title is “Memories of Sukhumi, the war, and pain,” which gives you some idea of its focus, although recently the author has written a bit about the conflict in South Ossetia as well. It often has photos of Sukhumi and other places in Abkhazia, along with reminiscences from the blog's author or others in the comments section, and it has a consistent community of readers/commenters who guarantee a lively dialogue and often add their own very interesting information about goings-on in Abkhazia.

Tbilisi, Georgia, August 13, 2006 – photo by Lyndon Allin


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