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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Georgia and Russia: From war to wine and walnuts

by Giorgi Lomsadze

04.04.2013. After a Kremlin-imposed diet of several years, it looks like Russia is about to open up to non-grata Georgian fruits and veggies, Georgia's food agency announced on April 2.

The agency claimed that negotiations in Moscow with its Russian counterpart, succinctly known as Rosselkhoznadzor, went well and that, after some changes in agricultural regulations, a taste of Georgia will soon reappear in Russian salads and pirogis.

But, of course, Russian officials want to be the first to get that taste. In what is slowly turning into supra diplomacy, they've been invited back to Georgia to munch on tomatoes and cucumbers at an unspecified date in the future.

If wine is any test, though, the final burp of approval might be some time in coming. Only two Georgian wine brands so far have passed muster with Russia’s food security agency, Rospoterbnodzor; its fastidious experts apparently opting to bring back banished Georgian wines glass by glass.

Wine-tasting is a serious procedure that brooks no haste, especially when it comes as a form of post-conflict diplomacy and, also, when there is so much wine to taste. For months now, Russian federal wine-tasters have gotten to sniff, slurp, roll the wine around their mouths, look quizzically at each other and make sure the political terroir is acceptable for the Kremlin.

Rospotrebnodzor is also in no rush to allow back the iconic Georgian mineral water Borjomi, even though the company now has a Russian majority owner. On April 1, the agency’s chief, Gennady Onishchenko, requested to test the water for radioactivity, perhaps after noticing the bubbles in Georgia’s sparkling treasure. Onishechenko can take no risks, especially after a food-security alert caused by the surprising and menacing appearance of Georgian-produced Coca Cola at an event hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But given the experience with the wine inspections, once summer hits and Georgia's succulent strawberries and other fruits go on display, most likely no arm-twisting will be needed to bring back officials from any Russian agency with a tongue-twisting name to eat and drink their way to reconciliation. Whoever knew that peace could depend on a peach?  

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