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article imageRussia and Georgia to hold first bilateral meeting since 2008

By Raluca Besliu     Dec 11, 2012 in Politics
Russia and Georgia shall host bilateral talks for the first time since the 2008 conflict over the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The conflict commenced on August 8, 2008, when Russia introduced troops in South Ossetia and fought against the Georgian army, which had been sent by the Georgian government in the province the previous day. By August 10, Russia controlled the province’s capital and was heading toward Tbilisi. On August 16, Russia entered a six-point French-brokered ceasefire, promising to withdraw Russian troops to pre-conflict positions. The war had officially ended and, on August 26, 2008, Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In turn, Georgia still considers the two provinces as part of its territory.
On December 10, 2012, more than four years after the conflict ended, Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze announced in a press conference that Prime Minister Ivanishvili's special representative for Russia Zurab Abashidze will meet Russian diplomats this week in Europe, mostly likely in Switzerland.
The Georgian Prime Minister Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition defeated Saakashvili's party in a parliamentary election two months ago, has declared normalizing Georgia’s relation to Russia as his key foreign policy objective. He has nevertheless also promised that he would continue pursuing Saakashvili’s pro-Western course and his country’s bid to join NATO and the European Union (EU), two policies that Russia strongly opposes. While the Kremlin may disapprove of these two particular policies, it ultimately welcomed the results of the parliamentary elections in Georgia, as they ended Saakashvili's nine-year dominance.
The Georgian Foreign Minister has emphasized that the bilateral discussions shall focus first on areas where rapid progress can be made, such as normalizing cultural and trade ties with Russia, rather than touching sensitive issues, particularly the two countries’ contrasting approach to South Ossetia and Abhazia.
On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia is willing to take reasonable steps aimed at improving citizens’ lives. He also hinted that Russia might decide to resume imports of Georgian agricultural products during the upcoming meeting. Before the 2008 war, Russia had been Georgia's largest trading partner.
Other issues to be discussed shall include lifting Russian import bans on Georgian wine, mineral water and other products, which had been forbidden by Russia two years before the 2008 conflict.Prior to the ban, Georgian mineral water and wine used to make up almost one third of Georgia’s exports to Russia.
While Georgia and Russia have not engaged in any diplomatic relations since the 2008 conflict, representatives from the two countries have met regularly in discussions mediated by international organizations, such as the UN.
The Georgian Foreign Minister acknowledged that although no concrete positive outcome is expected from the upcoming bilateral meeting, even holding this talk is a positive step in Russo-Georgian relations.
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