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Georgia: EU Commissioner Urges Dialogue With Moscow

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Gela Bezhuashvili, Georgian Foreign Minister, on Sept. 14, two weeks before the crisis (Courtesy Photo) BRUSSELS, October 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner today urged both Tbilisi and Moscow to display restraint and restore dialogue. Ferrero-Waldner said in a telephone interview after meeting Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi that she does not want to assign any blame in the row that erupted after the arrest of four Russian officers in Georgia on September 27. She said both sides now have to return to dialogue and she offered the EU's services as a mediator. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas talked with the commissioner.

RFE/RL: Who, in your view, is responsible for this crisis? Is Georgia trying to provoke Russia, as Moscow claims, or is Russia punishing Georgia for its pro-Western aspirations, as Tbilisi maintains?

Benita Ferrero-Waldner: It is certainly not a question that I can answer. I can only tell you that our answer to both parties is clearly -- there should be stability in our common neighborhood and this should be of mutual benefit for both parties, and a conflict can only be solved by dialogue and particularly by restraint. This has also been our message here to the Georgian side.

RFE/RL: Do you think Georgia show a lack of restraint when it arrested the four Russian officers?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, you know, I do not know all the facts. The important thing is now
that Georgia is trying to find a solution for that and I must say I'm glad to see that the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) has offered its services, its good [offices], and our colleague [Belgian Foreign Minister and the OSCE´s chair-in-office] Mr. Karel de Gucht has been here in Georgia just before us in order to take over the four people, the four Russian people.

RFE/RL: In your view, was Russia's decision to impose a wholesale blockade on Georgia a proportional response?

Ferrero-Waldner: It is difficult to answer such a question [without knowing all the details] and I'm not going into that. What I can say -- and this was clearly our message here, but this is also our message to our Russian friends - [is:] use all the different possibilities for mediation. It [includes] the [United Nations], OSCE, it certainly also [includes] the European Union and both sides now have to show restraint and a dialogue in order to restore stability in this region.

RFE/RL: Given, as you say, that the EU is ready to mediate, did the Georgian government ask you today to try and persuade Russia to drop the blockade?

Ferrero-Waldner: Well, they of course told us their perception of the question, and of course we mentioned that we in principle were ready if this were necessary. Now I think it's a matter of mutual consultations, it's a matter of mutual information, and certainly [the EU's] Finnish [presidency] is also in touch with Russia.

Russia And Georgia

Russia And Georgia
Beefed up security outside Russian military headquarters in Tbilisi on September 27 (InterPressNews)

NOT ALL WINE AND ROSES. Moscow's relations with Tbilisi since the collapse of the Soviet Union have often been tense and strained. Among the issues that have made the relationship difficult are Moscow's alleged support for the breakaway Georgia regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the continued presence of Russia troops on Georgian territory. Periodically, Georgian lawmakers propose withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) altogether. RFE/RL has written extensively about the rocky relationship between these two countries.


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