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Russia lifts the border curtain2009-01-21 15:00
This week it became known that Russia is once again issuing visas for Georgian citizens. In Tbilisi this is being viewed as a step towards normalizing relations between the countries, and very few people in Georgia doubt that this is necessary.
The political commentator Ramaz Sakvarelidze, for example, thinks that "popular diplomacy" has worked successfully. And more specifically, the trip made by a delegation of public figures from Georgia to Moscow in mid-December last year at the invitation of the Russian Public Chamber, and the dialogue that was carried out there. As a result, they managed to establish a public Georgian-Russian commission for overcoming the consequences of the conflict in the Caucasus. It sent a request to the Russian leadership for it to resume air traffic between the countries. Another important issue which met with mutual understanding was the issuing of visas.
As the head of the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Georgia Valery Vasiliev told us in a telephone interview, the issuing of documents granting the right to enter Russia will commence shortly. According to him, at the moment agreements are being finalized over the official opening of a Russia section at the Swiss embassy, which has been representing Russia's interests in Georgia since diplomatic relations were broken off between Moscow and Tbilisi. It is likely that all the organizational issues will be sorted out by late January - early February, and the diplomats will fully resume their consular services.
What type of visas exactly will Georgian citizens be able to get - guest, business or tourist ones? This issue, explained Valery Vasiliev, is being clarified. Entry documents will be issued at the Russian Consulate building in Georgia, where a notice will appear: "The Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia - section for Russia's interests".
On 28th August last year Georgia's parliament decided to break off diplomatic relations with Russia because of the military events in South Ossetia. But it also said that consular services would carry on functioning. Later the parties came to an agreement that Switzerland would represent Russia's interests in Georgia. To begin with Georgia abolished the procedure for a simplified visa regime for Russian citizens. Instead it was envisaged that they would only be able to enter the country with an invitation, and that documents would only be issued from Georgian diplomatic representatives in third countries. However, just a few days later the Georgian authorities abandoned this system and went back to the simplified option. This means that Russians can visit Georgia without an official invitation by paying 20 dollars to cross the border.