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Russia calls on its citizens not to travel to Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, September 2
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on its citizens to “refrain” from traveling to Georgia and accused Tbilisi of “persecuting” Russian citizens. Official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrey Nesterenko commented on the reports of the Russian media about a number of Russian and Armenian citizens imprisoned in a Tbilisi jail on “illegal border crossing” charges.

According to Georgian legislation, people entering Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia bypassing the official Georgian border face a fine of about USD 1200. Meanwhile people cooperating with the de facto authorities face a prison sentence. Last week the Georgian Interior Ministry warned tourists against entering Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region via the Psou and Roki tunnel checkpoints. This rule applies to everyone, whatever their citizenship, including citizens of Georgia,” Head of the analytical department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Shota Utiashvili told The Messenger.

Following the statement of the Georgian Interior Ministry, the Russian Foreign Ministry representative said that the aim of “those moves is to isolate Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the rest of the world.” Andrey Nesterenko added, “Ethnic Russians are the victims of systematic pressure, regardless of whether they have ever been to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or not.”

In addition, Nesterenko criticised Georgia’s State Strategy on the Occupied Territories, calling it a “hypocritical document.” “The hatred of the Georgian administration towards the Abkhazians and the Ossetians is so strong that it also spreads to the citizens of the third country,” the Russian official stated. “So I would call upon Russian citizens to refrain from traveling to Georgia.” he added.

Officials in Tbilisi have reiterated that the legislation is “applied equally” to citizens of any country, including Georgia. Answering the claims of Nesterenko regarding the attempts to “block” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the head of the Cabinet of the Abkhazian Government-in-Exile, Besik Silagadze said that according to international law, the occupied territories or the ones out of central government control are “automatically blocked.” “In addition, Georgia is an independent state with its own legislation and it does not matter who violates the law – a Georgian, a Chinese or Russian – legislative rules are applied equally to all of them,” he told The Messenger.

As for Nesterenko's accusations about Tbilisi officials’ “pathological hatred” of Abkhazians, Ossetians and Russians, Silagadze noted that the situation is “quite the contrary.” “Through the recent examples we can see that the Russian government is completely ignoring the interests of the Abkhazian and the Ossetian populations in both regions. Moscow has turned these territories into military bases,” he said. Silagadze suggested the Kremlin is trying to portray the conflicts in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region as “ethnic conflicts.” “However, it is obvious that those have never been ethnic conflicts, but merely conflicts inspired by Moscow,” he stated, adding that the people-to-people dialogue is progressing between the Georgian and the Abkhazian people. “Moscow is quite afraid of this,” he noted.

Silagadze downplayed Nesterenko's assessment of Georgia’s Strategy on the Occupied Territories. He said that through the strategy the Georgian government is trying to give every resident of the two breakaway regions “the same conditions.” “We are offering not only social assistance programs, but also business cooperation projects. If the strategy is implemented successfully, it will be a strong blow to the reputation of the Kremlin, which wants to portray itself as the “saviour” of the Abkhazian and the Ossetian people.”