Tbilisi-Moscow talks: annexation of Abkhazia, the Lugar lab, air traffic
The agreement on the creation of a common socio-economic space recently signed by Sukhumi and Moscow was at the center of an online discussion on September 27 between Georgian and Russian officials Zurab Abashidze and Grigori Karasin.
The agreement in question was signed during a meeting in Moscow on November 12 between President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania and Russian President Vladimir Putin and was officially published on November 25.
The Georgian side considers this agreement ‘another illegal step towards de facto annexation.’
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Abashidze brought up several issues related to the difficult situation in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region (South Ossetia), in particular:
Large-scale military exercises conducted by Russia in these occupied territories; the so-called ‘borderisation’ process in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict – the construction of fortifications on the demarcation line; the flagrant violations of human rights and the virtual cessation of traffic in these regions. A more detailed discussion of these issues will take place during the next round of the Geneva international negotiations.
The parties also considered the dynamics of trade and economic relations, transport and humanitarian ties between Georgia and Russia in January-October 2020. It was noted that trade relations between the two countries have deteriorated slightly due to the pandemic.
They also discussed the issue of restoring direct flights between Georgia and Russia.
Presumably, this can happen after the epidemiological situation improves. However, at this stage, the Russian side has not yet made a final decision.
Reconstruction of the Kazbegi-Lars checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border
The Russian side plans to reconstruct the area around the Kazbegi-Lars border checkpoint (from the North Ossetian side) from 2021 to facilitate traffic, it was reported at the meeting.
The Lugar lab and the Russian campaign against it
The meeting again raised the issue of the Lugar Laboratory, officially known as the Richard Lugar Public Health Research Center, which plays an important role in the fight against the pandemic in Georgia.
This laboratory raises suspicions in Moscow, where it is regularly accused of conducting dangerous experiments and developing biological weapons, which Tbilisi categorically denies.
Zurab Abashidze said that such a false propaganda campaign is absolutely unacceptable, and announced his readiness to host a group of foreign experts, including Russian, on the territory of the laboratory.
On the “Abashidze-Karasin” negotiation format
Since coming to power in Georgia in 2012, the Ruling Dream party resumed direct Georgian-Russian dialogue, which was suspended for several years during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili.
At that time, the only format of communication between the two countries was the regular Geneva negotiations, in which, in addition to Georgia and Russia, Abkhaz and Ossetian representatives, as well as international organizations, participated.
Oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who briefly served as prime minister of Georgia after his Georgian Dream party came to power, created a format of direct negotiations with Moscow and appointed Zurab Abashidze, a diplomat with many years of experience as Georgia’s ambassador to Russia, as his representative.
On the Russian side, in this format, then Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin was appointed. In 2019, Karasin became a member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, but retained the authority to negotiate with Tbilisi.
Since 2012, these diplomats have regularly met and discussed topical economic, humanitarian and cultural issues.