Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"New York Times" on Ivanishvili and Georgian wine: Georgia sees closer ties with Russia

06.02.2013. As Russia took steps to resume imports of Georgian-produced wine and mineral water, Georgia’s new prime minister, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, said Tuesday that he was making progress on one of his campaign promises — to repair the country’s badly frayed relationship with its huge neighbor.

Mr. Ivanishvili has struggled to meet the expectations that swept him to power in October, ending the nine-year political dominance of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his party. Many voters expected his election to be followed by immediate financial relief and a turnaround in relations with Russia.

On Monday came the news that Russia would dispatch teams of sanitary inspectors to Georgia in anticipation of resuming imports. Georgian wine and mineral water — Russian consumer staples since the Soviet era — were banned from Russian shelves in 2006, as Mr. Saakashvili openly challenged Russia’s supremacy in the region. At a news conference marking his first 100 days in office on Tuesday, Mr. Ivanishvili said he was making headway in repairing the rift.

“It will not happen as fast as I used to say,” he said. But he said that he felt a friendly tone was returning to the relationship, and that Russian officials had given him “a surprisingly warm reception” at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr. Saakashvili and his allies have warned that Mr. Ivanishvili’s overtures may represent a departure from Georgia’s longstanding efforts to join NATO and the European Union, which still have strong public support. Late last month, legislators from Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement proposed amending the country’s Constitution to make Georgia’s “pro-Western orientation” legally binding.

Mr. Ivanishvili said Tuesday that he would not amend the Constitution, but that altering the country’s pro-Western foreign policy was “unimaginable.”

Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.


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