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Georgian President Sees Hope For 'Rational Dialogue' With Russia

Interview: Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili
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Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili sounded an optimistic note on Georgia's relations with Russia, saying he sees the possibility of a "rational dialogue" with Moscow.

In an April 25 interview in Prague with RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Margvelashvili said he has hope Russia will understand that an independent and sovereign Georgia "does not pose any threat to Russia's vital interests."

"I believe -- and this is why I have hope and ambition for rational dialogue -- that as soon as we start communicating on the basis of rationality, it will become crystal clear that Georgia does not pose any threat to Russia's vital interests," he said.

"[I believe] that a territorially intact, calm, strong, and protected Georgia is only beneficial for Russia, not for its vital interests, but for good neighborly interests."

Georgia and Russia have had a rocky relationship over the last two decades, culminating in the 2008 war where the two countries broke diplomatic relations. In 2013, Russia lifted a seven-year-old embargo on two of Georgia's most popular exports, wine and mineral water.

Margvelashvili said that even if Russia were to reinstate the ban, then Georgia's economy would not be threatened. "When it comes to Georgia - when we calculate Russia's influence and abilities -- we can talk about the newly opened format, the import of [Georgian] wines and mineral waters [to Russia]. Now this is not going to destroy our economy."

On the other hand, he said that Russia had problems with its own economy to deal with. "I believe Russia has very serious economic needs. Its economy needs to be modernized. I say this [just] to you; there is no way I am going to preach anything to anyone. As well as demographic problems. These are Russia's vital problems."

Russia's economy has taken a sharp dive since it invaded Crimea at the end of February. It has seen over $50 billion in capital outflow in the first three months of this year. The Central Bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 7.5 percent on April 25 amid inflation.

Margvelashvili, however, said that he did not foresee a Ukraine-style scenario happening to Georgia. "I said I do not perceive an immediate danger [from Russia]. Immediate danger means that in the near future, today or tomorrow, some very strong steps will be taken against our country. For this, Russia had resources in Ukraine. In order to influence Ukraine’s choices. The resources included the business sector and the fact that Ukrainian society was not unified in its European choice."

The president criticized those in his country wanting to take a harder line with Russia.

"No matter how unacceptable this might seem to political forces in our country who believe that with very loud, aggressive statements, hysterical talk, someone can be persuaded of something, I believe we will be able to achieve rational dialogue [with Russia], albeit with difficulty," he said.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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