By Sabina Idayatova
The Georgian-Russian relations seem to be improving. The first steps toward rapprochement included the negotiations on economic and cultural issues. Apparently the cornerstone for bettering bilateral relations will be mainly the beverages to be exported from Georgia that Russia embargoed in 2006 following the aggravation of relations.
The two neighbors have maintained no diplomatic relations since a brief war in 2008, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault to reassert control over the two rebel regions -- South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- and later recognized the breakaway regions. Georgia announced the two unrecognized republics as occupied territories in September 2008 and broke off relations with Moscow.
During his election campaign and then after winning the Oct.1, 2012 parliamentary elections, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili considered returning Georgian goods to the Russian market as a priority, gradually realizing his intention.
In late 2012, Russia expressed willingness to start negotiations on the resumption of the Georgian goods' supply. The issue was considered during a Moscow meeting on Feb.4 between a Georgian business delegation and Russia's consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor. Following the meeting, both sides stated that the embargo on the Georgian products could be lifted in spring.
Later, in February 2013, Rospotrebnadzor experts arrived in Georgia to inspect a quality laboratory in the capital Tbilisi. The head of Rospotrebnadzor, Gennady Onishchenko, said that some 90 Georgian enterprises have announced plans to export their products to Russia and it is expected that the export of Georgian beverages to Russia will resume in May.
Georgia's Agriculture Minister David Kirvalidze also expressed his confidence that Georgian wine which is expected to return to the Russian market this spring will be of the best quality. However, he did not exclude the danger that the wines may be forged outside Georgia's borders, adding that the ministry has its own proposals on measures against the forgery of Georgian goods.
The second round of talks on the issue is scheduled for March.
Meanwhile, the Center for Russian-Georgian Economic Cooperation announced the establishment of the Georgian Wine Exporters Association for supplies of quality products to the Russia. It will be tasked with the dissemination of reliable information on the Georgian goods in Russia, as well as establishing contacts between Georgian producers and Russian companies and importers.
The Georgian Wine Exporters Association intends to work closely with both the Georgian Agriculture Ministry and its entities, and with Rospotrebnadzor and influential Russian organizations defending the rights of consumers.
In the background of the 'tasty' rapprochement, the relations between the two neighbors in the political and social areas are also getting warmer.
The intention to ease the visa regime between Russia and Georgia, announced recently after a meeting of Ivanishvili`s special representative for the Russian affairs Zurab Abashidze and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, can be cited as a graphic example of this trend.
Following the meeting with Karasin on March 1, Abashidze said that Russia is ready to consider partial ease of the visa regime with Georgia, but visa easing most likely will cover certain categories of citizens. The timing of the measure was not specified.
Abashidze noted that the parties also talked about the need to establish an air transportation and freight service between Georgia and Russia through the official Upper Lars checkpoint.
Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, for her part, regarded the Abashidze-Karasin meeting as "more focused", compared with the first meeting held in Geneva on November 2012. She noted that the visa regime with Russia may be simplified, but not cancelled, and soon there will be concrete results in this regard.
Moreover, the sides discussed the participation of Georgia in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The Georgian side believes that sports shouldn't be politicized and Tbilisi is ready to take part in the tournament.
The next meeting is due to take place in two months.
Generally, the restoration of relations after the 2008 war is an issue of geopolitics for Russia, but for Georgia it is a territorial question. Thus, Georgia is not going to restore diplomatic relations with Russia until the latter stands by its decision on South Ossetia.
Apparently, the intransigent stances of both sides are likely to drag the reconciliation process until the end of 2013.