Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Karasin warned Georgia: “We both remember how the Ukraine problem began.”
The most recent meeting between Georgian and Russian diplomats has produced a series of scandalous comments and statements.
The special representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Grigory Karasin, met in Prague on 27 February and held a three-hour meeting behind closed doors. However, comments were voiced for the media both before and after.
Karasin warned Tbilisi that the strengthening of NATO in the Caucasus would be followed by “unpleasant surprises”, and he drew a parallel with events in Ukraine.
Karasin’s statements have caused concern in Georgia, as his words were perceived as a direct threat.
The first threat: ‘Unpleasant surprises’
Prior to the meeting with Abashidze, Karasin told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that he wanted to alert his Georgian colleagues to potential “unpleasant surprises”.
What is the Abashidze-Karasin meeting format? (Click to expand)+
When the Georgian Dream party came to power in Georgia in 2012, direct dialogue with Russia resumed after a pause of several years. The former head of the Georgian government, Bidzina Ivanishvili, established the position of ‘Special Representative of the Prime Minister for Relations with Russia’ which was assigned to career diplomat Zurab Abashidze, who had earlier been the head of a Georgian diplomatic mission to the Russian Federation.
A new format of direct negotiations was created. Within this format, Zurab Abashidze and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Grigory Karasin, meet regularly to discuss economic, humanitarian and cultural issues.
Direct dialogue with Russia had been cut off by Georgia after the August 2008 war.
After the 2008 war, the only format in which Russia and Georgia were in contact was the Geneva talks, mediated by international observers.
It was on the basis of the agreement reached under the Karasin-Abashidze format in 2013 that exports of Georgian products (fruits, vegetables, wine, mineral water) to Russia were restored, in addition to regular flights.
“We must strive to develop relations in all spheres and warn our Georgian partners against unpleasant surprises,” Karasin told RFE/RL.
The second threat: Tbilisi should decide – either calm in the region, or NATO
“Tbilisi has to decide: either they choose to create an atmosphere of regional well-being in the South Caucasus, or a Euro-Atlantic agenda. To do this at the same time is difficult and fraught with the most serious potential consequences,” Karasin told Kommersant (Russian).
Karasain says that the statements of Georgian politicians have become increasingly harsh, starting with President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.
“They are talking about accelerated integration in NATO, the so-called Russian threat to the whole of democratic Europe and so on. Naturally, this is jarring for us. This does not contribute to strengthening the atmosphere of cooperation in relations between Russia and Georgia,” he said.
The third threat: we remember how the Ukraine problem began
In the interview with Kommersant, Karasin reminded Tbilisi and Georgian politicians that the problems of Ukraine began after the issue of NATO became more active in the rhetoric of politicians in the country:
“It is clear that if NATO military activity develops in the South Caucasus, sooner or later this will lead to problems. We remember how the Ukrainian problems began. This is exactly the same formulation of the issue,” said the Russian diplomat.