Moscow Sets Condition for Reciprocating on Visa-Free Rules, Offers Restoring Diplomatic Ties

Moscow said on Friday in response to Georgia's unilateral lift of visa requirements for Russian citizens, that it was ready to reciprocate, but called on Tbilisi to revise its law on occupied territories.

In the same statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia has also offered Tbilisi to restore diplomatic relations, cut by Tbilisi following the August, 2008 war.

"The Russian side has always been in favor of keeping and strengthening of humanitarian ties between our people," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on March 2. "Military adventure by the Georgian leadership in August, 2008 and consequent cutting of diplomatic relations with Russia by the Georgian side have undermined these ties."

It said that the Georgian leadership had been creating enemy image of Russia, including through "rewriting history in order to portray as if Georgia had been under 'Russian occupation' for centuries."

The Russian MFA said that despite of that Moscow had been undertaking efforts to restore ties between the people of the two countries by restoring direct flights and providing visas "without hindrance" to Georgian citizens willing to travel to Russia to thier relatives.

The Russian MFA said, that Georgia's law on occupied territories was making "significant part" of Russian citizens subject to criminal persecution upon the arrival in Georgia. It was referring to the provision of the law which makes it illegal in Georgia to enter into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia from territories other than those controlled by Tbilisi; the law also sets whole set of exceptions to this rule. Violation of the law can result into a fine or a jail term from two to four years.

"This [provision] applies to all those who have at least once visited Abkhazia and South Ossetia", since the law was enforced in late 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "Any person having a holiday in Sochi and taking an excursion for couple of hours to the Abkhaz lake of Ritsa will be considered as a criminal according to Georgia's notorious law 'on occupied territories'. Several of our citizens have already been subjected to this illegality."

"Despite of that, we want to stress once again, that we have been and still remain interested in strengthening of ties between Russian and Georgian people. We are ready to introduce a reciprocal visa free rules for the Georgian citizens. For that to happen the Georgian side should secure reliable legal conditions, which would guarantee security of Russians visiting Georgia,"

"We also offer to restore diplomatic relations between our countries," the Russian Foreign Ministry said at the end of the statement. "We are waiting for Tbilisi's response to our proposals."

Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said in late January that Russia was ready for restoring diplomatic relations with Georgia, saying that it was not Moscow who cut those ties.

At the time Tbilisi responded by reiterating its long-standing position on the matter. "Diplomatic relations with Russia will be restored only after illegally opened [Russia’s] so called embassies in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali are closed down," the Georgian President's spokesperson said on January 26.

Tbilisi response on diplomatic relations with Russia remains the same.

“They want to have diplomatic relations with Georgia while occupying 20 percent of its territory and basically not respecting the very fact of the independence of the country,” Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, told The New York Times, on March 2. “This is confusing.”