RFE/RL: Two days ago, the presidents of Georgia and Russia held a meeting in St. Petersburg. Not much is known about the meeting. It was announced that the talk concerned removal of sanctions imposed by Russia and the issue of territorial integrity. The latter topic is now being addressed within the context of Kosovo's status, considering U.S. President George W. Bush's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Bush's announcement that Kosovo should become independent as soon as possible. Where does Georgian government stand on this issue? As you are aware, many parallels are being drawn between the case of Kosovo and those of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How dangerous will Kosovo's precedent be, if the province indeed acquires independence?
Zurab Noghaideli: Firstly, the meeting between the presidents [of Georgia and Russia] was very positive. This is not only according to us -- I think the Russian side also thinks so, and this is indeed very important. However, at the same time, we should wait to see what practical results will this meeting entail. This meeting will result in concrete working contacts, in accordance to orders given by the presidents, and the final evaluations should be made after this practical side is actually materialized.
As for the possible Kosovo precedent and its potential results for us, we are obviously very closely watching these processes, because Russian officials have drawn such parallels on many occasions. There is no parallel in reality; however, the Russian officials drew them nonetheless.
Moreover, when addressing these parallels, they only mention Abkhazia and South Ossetia and not other territories. Naturally, we oppose this and will not let this happen. This is absolutely out of the question. We cannot afford to lose territories. Our principle is clearly formulated: these conflicts should be solved in a peaceful manner, within the borders of Georgia's territorial integrity. The future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should not be determined by the gangs that, to be frank, are the present inhabitants there. In the past, these gangs succeeded in ethnic cleansing the regions of Georgians, first and foremost -- but not only of them.
At the present, being encouraged by their patrons, they are seemingly trying to acquire independence. This is out of the question, for this would be a dangerous signal to the world. Allowing such a precedent would send a message to the world's separatists -- that if they succeed in cleansing a territory of other people, other ethnic groups, they will be allowed to ask for independence. This would turn the present world order upside down, and I am convinced that this is not going to happen. We, for our part, cannot accept any violation of Georgia's territorial integrity.
RFE/RL: At the St. Petersburg summit, Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, put forward an interesting, and largely unexpected, proposal to build a canal that would connect the Black and Caspian seas. How realistic do you think this venture is? Is Georgia going to participate in it?
Noghaideli: I can't say anything concrete about this project at the moment. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev mentioned that people were working on this project already in Soviet times. I don't know much about this project. We have to see how realistic it is and only after this can we start talking about this project. However, the fact itself that the Caspian and Black seas should be connected through a transport infrastructure is undisputable -- be it gas pipelines, oil pipelines, railways, different transport means, etc.
RFE/RL: If you find some free time to visit any Prague supermarkets, you might be able to come across Georgian wines in these shops. However, if you look closely at the counters, you'll find that, let's say, Bulgarian, Romanian, and even Moldovan wines are much more richly represented than Georgian varieties. Do you think they are competing more effectively?
Noghaideli: I wouldn't say so, to be honest, judging concretely from the Czech wine market. Our winemakers always considered FSU [former Soviet Union] countries as their primary [export space] and were focused on those markets, paying relatively less attention to other markets. Besides, the FSU market was constantly growing, and at times our grape harvest was not enough to supply the demand.
However, in recent times things have began to change. After the Russian market became closed to Georgian wine, we tripled and even quadrupled our sales elsewhere. The Czech Republic is one of the countries where our efforts have been successful. However, due to the fact that sales used to be very small, even after tripling and quadrupling they cannot match the numbers obtained in Russian market. There are still a lot of things to be done in this direction.
Georgia is the cradle of wine, and we can fill a very special, even unique, niche in the [international] wine market. Our winemakers are already working on it and this will inevitably happen.
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