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A User's Guide To Georgia's 'Neutral' Passports


A checkpoint at Georgia's boundary with its breakaway region of Abkhazia.
A checkpoint at Georgia's boundary with its breakaway region of Abkhazia.
Residents of Georgia's two breakaway regions will soon be allowed to visit the United States with so-called "status-neutral" documents issued by the authorities in Tbilisi.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement on June 5 during a visit to the Caucasus nation, describing the move as "a strong step toward reconciliation" between Georgia and its separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

What do these "neutral" documents provide for and what does their recognition by Washington mean in concrete terms for residents of the two territories?

When and why did Georgia start delivering so-called "status-neutral" documents?

These documents were introduced by the Georgian government in July 2011 to facilitate travel for people living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Although Tbilisi formally recognizes documents currently issued by the regions' self-styled authorities, crossing into Georgia proper with such documents can pose difficulties.

In terms of overseas travel, only countries that have recognized the two territories as independent -- Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and a few Pacific island nations -- accept locally issued passports.

Many residents hold Russian passports, but they are usually denied visas to Western countries.
Only a handful of countries currently recognize Georgia's "status-neutral" passports.
Only a handful of countries currently recognize Georgia's "status-neutral" passports.

Georgian authorities say the new "neutral" documents will help ease travel restrictions for Abkhaz and South Ossetians.

The Neutral Identification Card allows for free travel within Georgia and gives holders access to some Georgian social services, while the Neutral Travel Document is intended for trips abroad.

Prior to the United States, only a handful of countries -- including Japan, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- had recognized Georgia's "status-neutral" passport.

Why are Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and their patron, Russia, opposed to these documents?

Moscow has granted Russian citizenship to many Abkhaz and South Ossetians and views Georgia's "neutral" passports as an attempt to challenge its influence in the regions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has described the documents as a misleading "scam." It says the documents, while not specifying that their holders are Georgian citizens, are "not quite neutral" since they indicate Georgia's country code and state the documents are issued by the Georgian government.

Abkhaz leader Aleksandr Ankvab has even ordered all international organizations that encourage residents to get the Georgia-issued documents to be expelled from the territory.

Authorities in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia say they will continue to promote the recognition of locally issued passports as valid travel documents, including at an upcoming meeting in Geneva devoted to security in the Caucasus.

How do residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia apply for the "status-neutral" documents? Do they need to travel to Tbilisi?

Applicants are asked to file an electronic application form available on a Georgian government website.

A compulsory online web-camera consultation with officials in Tbilisi ensues after which, if the application is successful, the "status-neutral" documents are issued within 10 working days.

Documents are then either picked up in person in Tbilisi or forwarded to the applicants via international organizations operating in Georgia.

If Washington holds its promise, holders of "neutral" documents will soon be free to apply for visas at the U.S. consulate in Tbilisi.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report

* This article has been amended since it was originally posted