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Union of Georgians is ready to reconnect Moscow and Tbilisi26.12.2008 | 10:14
On Thursday the media reported that via intermediaries Georgia's president might enter into negotiations with Moscow on potential restoration of relations. One of such intermediaries can be the head of the Union of Georgians in Russia Mikhail Khubutia. This information was published by "Kommersant".
Within a day this report changed several times. In some cases authenticity of the Saakashvili-Khubutia meeting on November 21 in Munich was confirmed (with reference to informed sources). In others it was stated that this fact was disproved by the Union leader himself.
We have managed to get in touch with Mikhail Khubutia and find out the truth at first hand.
-Mihail Mikhailovich, so you had a meeting with Georgia's president, didn't you?
- I've been repeatedly asked about it today - so I'm not surprised. Both by journalists and politicians. Yes, we did have a meeting. Quite recently. I won't specify the date and the location. Why add fuel to the fire: the debates around it look really stormy.
- And what was it all about? The prospects of Russian-Georgian relationships? Starting with diplomatic relations?
- We discussed the problems of the Georgian Diaspora in Russia. Mainly about Georgian refugees that temporarily live in its territory. Many of them have Abkhazian origins; their visas allowing them to live and work legally are expired. And generally speaking they have no place to go back to (following the Georgian-Abkhazian war in 1992-1993 the entrance to the republic for these people is closed - IP). After the diplomatic relations were broken off it became still more complicated to extend expired documents. So we touched upon the resumption of diplomatic ties in this respect.
- And what was Saakashvili's reaction?
- He said he was aware of the hardships of these people. But the resumption of diplomatic ties with Russia is complicated by its recognition of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's independence. To agree to that means to renounce the Georgian land, my interlocutor said. And he cannot accept this. At the same time Saakashvili admitted that it was necessary to search for the way out of the problems his compatriots and his people had.
- The media also reported that the president had "asked Khubutia to have an active position in restoration of relationships with the Kremlin". Is that true?
-No, we have discussed nothing else. We haven't touched upon other issues - so to say political ones.
-And do you think he is ready for the dialogue with Moscow?
-Yes, I believe. But it is purely my personal opinion. Though it seems to me Saakashvili understands that good neighborly relations as well as economic ties must be restored. Without it the delicate question of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's status is impossible to solve. By the way, one of these days during his speech at the session of the Security Council in Tbilisi the president conveyed a very clear message that he was intended to begin negotiating with Moscow. The priority issue will be restoration of territorial integrity.
- Tbilisi was very reactive to the possibility of resumption of dialogue with Russia in connection with you. And your meeting - In Munich or somewhere else - was even discussed at a parliament session. For example, first vice speaker Mikhail Machavariani stated that he considered the resumption of diplomatic intercourse with Russia "a non pragmatic, politically ill-considered action and an unclear demand". What is your comment?
-It's just that many are afraid to lose their seats. Otherwise I can't explain how a politician can oppose the resumption of diplomatic relations with the country where a lot of his compatriots live? The trade links with which will significantly improve our economic indexes.
- You have been living in Russia for quite a long time. Do you think its authorities are ready to dialogue with Saakashvili?
- I can't say for politicians, especially for all of them. I know there is the same conviction in Moscow: relations with Georgia must be restored. First of all at a diplomatic level. And consequently the dialogue with Saakashvili, the duly elected president, is essential. The politicians leave, presidents change, and relations should be rebuilt, the sooner the better.
- And still let's assume you have a proposal to take part in the organization of Georgian-Russian summit-level dialogue. What would you start with?
- Well, first of all I would be proud that I'd be able to serve for the benefit of Russia and Georgia. As I consider both countries my motherland. And I would begin with humanitarian programs. Student exchange, organization of joint training sessions, meetings at different levels - from parliamentary committees to the journalists' round tables.
- Looks like now it's not the best time for the humanitarian programs either. Practically all the previous joint projects of this kind are suspended...