|Georgia says visa-free move a bid to build ties with Russians|
|March 05, 2012|
The Georgian foreign ministry on Saturday described the country's unilateral abolition of visa requirements for Russians as a move to enhance people-to-people contacts and to promote cultural, economic and humanitarian interaction.
The ministry said in a statement President Mikheil Saakashvili's announcement of the visa-free move this week "underscores Georgia's willingness to open itself fully to Russian business, investors and tourists."
Saakashvili earlier in the day responded to a receiprocal Russian foreign ministry proposal to restore bilateral relations by saying Russia first had to recognize Georgia's sovereign borders, referring to Russia's support for Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia severed diplomatic ties with Russia after the two fought a brief war in August 2008 over South Ossetia's move for independence. In the wake of the conflict, Abkhazia and South Ossetia pronounced their respective independence, but Georgia claims sovereignty and territorial integrity over these regions.
In January, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country was ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia, saying that it was not Moscow who cut those ties.
Georgia announced visa-free travel for Russian citizens on Wednesday and the Russian foreign ministry responded late on Friday with its offer to restore bilateral relations.
The Russian ministry said in a statement it was ready to reciprocate but called upon the Georgian authorities to revise their views on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"The Russian side has always been in favor of keeping and strengthening of humanitarian ties between our people," the Russian foreign ministry statement said. "Military adventure by the Georgian leadership in August 2008 and the consequent cutting of diplomatic relations with Russia by the Georgian side have undermined these ties."
But Georgia said the cutting of the relations had not been initiated by Georgia but was caused by Russia's activities.
The requirement for Russians to acquire visas was imposed by Saakashvili in June 2006.
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