Issue 2, 2013. April-May

   

ABASHIDZE: TALKS WITH RUSSIA COULD BOOST INVESTMENT

Ambassador Zurab Abashidze, the government's special envoy for Russia, spoke to Investor.ge about the small diplomatic steps that could lead to business and cultural relations between the two countries.

Four years after Tbilisi broke diplomatic ties with Russia - and nearly seven years after Moscow banned Georgian products from its market - the two countries are discussing ways to work together.

"We are speaking about the first steps out of the deadlock. It is not yet resumption; it is not yet political process. We started by just talking on certain issues like trade, transport, culture, and some humanitarian issues, and we will see if there is any chance to go forward," Ambassador Zurab Abashidze told Investor.ge.

"So far, we are just in the initial talk stage."

Abashidze and his Russian counterpoint Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin have met twice so far - and plan a third meeting in Prague in May.

The discussions have been slow and pragmatic, he said, focusing so far on trade and culture.

"There are a lot of Georgian interests in trade and commerce...it is a huge market, a big country. We produce wine, they love wine. We produce fruits and vegetables - they like such products," he said.

"They are fond of sun and sea and having fun and we intend to be such a country, a good touristic route."

While Russia is an attractive market, Abashidze noted that better relations between Tbilisi and Moscow could encourage more investment in Georgia.

"The reduction of political tensions will also stimulate many people in Russia; many Georgians who are willing to invest in Georgia. Previously, they had political restrictions from both sides... Now this is changing," he said.

"The reduction of political tension also invites investors. No investor will come to a country which has such terrible relations with Russia, with the threat of military conflict. Who will invest money? That is not realistic."

Abashidze cautioned, however, that reducing tension will take time and pragmatism on both sides.

"We are trying to introduce some pragmatism in our foreign policy," he said. "In my opinion this is a pragmatic approach: to improve relations with Russia as much as possible, and I would like to underline that - as much as possible."

Common interests, not friendship or emotions, should define relations between states, Abashidze stressed.

"I am not very fond of using this word friendship between two countries. There might be friendship between people, between groups of people, but states are usually linked with state interests," he said.

"So we are trying to identify now those common interests ... at some point we will see what is next on ...the horizon...in this part of the world one says one thing at the beginning of the road, and one speaks another language at the top of the mountain."