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Do we need each other?

By Temuri Kiguradze
Thursday, February 12
“Russia and Georgia – do we need each other?” was the topic of the video forum between Georgian and Russian political experts hosted by the Tbilisi-based Newsgeorgia news agency on February 11.

“Russia was the most important trading partner for Georgia, quite aside from the ancient historical and cultural links between the two countries. Economic partnership with Russia is vital for Georgia,” stated Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, an independent Georgian expert. The Russian and Georgian sides agreed that both countries are interested in conducting normal relations.

Georgian experts made several “concrete” propositions to the Russian side which they said were absolute preconditions for the countries starting a dialogue on the reactivation of relations. The most important of these, said Malkhaz Gulashvili, President of The Georgian Times media holding, were the restoration of territorial integrity, the return of Georgian products to the Russian market and the resumption of transport links between the two countries.

Grigory Trofimchuk, Vice-President of the Russian Centre of Strategic Modelling, stated that both Tbilisi and Moscow should find several common points and start rebuilding communication from these. As an example Trofimchuk quoted Georgian wine. In 2006 the Russian Government imposed an embargo on Georgian wine, explaining this by the “low quality” of the product. “Wine unites us all,” said Trofimchuk, noting that several Russian NGOs have already requested that the Russian Government review the embargo.

“The relations between Georgia and Russia didn’t start to worsen on August 8, after the war. Relations started to degenerate from 1989 at the beginning of the fall of the USSR,” stated Georgian expert Hamlet Chipashvili. Chipashvili also noted that now the Georgian and Russian societies see each other as the “ultimate enemies.” “There have been several polls in Russia which show that regular Russian citizens consider Georgians among the most dangerous enemies of Russia. If you ask Georgian youth here in Tbilisi, you will hear that they consider Russia is Georgia’s main foe. This is despite the fact they know nothing about Russia, just as Russians know little about Georgia,” he said. Chipashvili proposed that the Russian Government start normalizing relations with Georgia by showing them the “real Russia.” “That could be done by inviting Georgian journalists and youth on tours of Moscow or St. Petersburg, and our Government organising corresponding tours in Georgia,” stated the expert.

Answering a question from The Messenger on what kind of Georgia Russia needs – the exhausted and unstable one it is now or the healthy and truly independent one it may be in the future, Russian experts stated that Moscow “had always supported the independence of Georgia since the fall of the Soviet Union.” “However it will be easier for Russia and neighbouring countries if Russia states what it really wants in its policy towards former Soviet republics. I’m afraid that even in the Kremlin they don’t know the answer to this question,” stated Trofimchuk, speaking at the conference.