TBILISI: Russia Calls On Its Citizens Not To Travel To Georgia

Mzia Kupunia

The Messenger
Sept 2 2010

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.”

From: A. Papazian

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