ArmInfo’s Interview with Giorgi Gvimradze, expert at the Strategic Research Institute (Tbilisi)
by David Stepanyan
During a conference in Yerevan, one of the Russian experts said in your presence that Russia would very soon “get direct communication with Armenia by taking up the matter of the South Ossetian borders with Georgia”. To what extent do such statements meet the recent trends in the Georgian-Russian relations?
Unfortunately, such statements are made quite often. In practice, however, such projects are unexecutable. Therefore, it would be wrong to comment on them. In fact, the Georgian-Russian relations are gradually improving.
According to International Alert’s survey, the restoration of the Abkhazian railway will require $277.5 mln, which will pay off no in some 100 years. It is noteworthy that according to the official conclusions of Abkhazian experts, $350-400mln is needed, whereas Georgian experts think that the project will require no more than $73 mln. What is your opinion about that?
I think we can spend $30 million needed for restoration of the Abkhazian railway section controlled by Georgia. In fact, according to the survey of International Alert, restoration of the railway through Ankhazia will bring no benefit. On the other hand, the project will be undoubtedly a positive one in the political sense, from the point of view of establishment of both Georgia-Abkhazia relations and Georgia-Russia relations. The government of Georgia has expressed readiness to discuss the issue on opening of the Abkhazian section of the railway. However, we still have no strict response of the Russian government on the matter. Meanwhile, as Russian experts say, Russia is very much interested in opening of the railway, but the government is still silent. As far as I know, our proposal was welcomed in Yerevan. But Abkhazia has certain concerns in the matter.
Many people in Georgia blamed the former president Mikheil Saakashvili for his excessively pro-Turkish policy running counter to the Georgians’ interests. What trends do you observe in the Turkish vector of the new authorities’ policy?
In Tbilisi they take the partnership with Ankara as part of the European integration, as the new authorities of Georgia still seek integration with the West. Europe and USA are very important actors for Turks. Western sales markets are also important for Ankara. In this light, both Georgia and Tbilisi look at the West. It is important that we consider Turkey as a strategically important, serious economic partner. The transit gas and oil pipelines stretching along our territories give us a brilliant opportunity to have ties and, hence, relations with Europe. Many Turks live and have their own business in Tbilisi. In small Adjara their number has reached 25,000 people, which is a big percentage of the total population. At the same time, I am sure that the Georgians will be able to digest the number of Turks in case of a policy meeting the interests of the vast majority of the population of Georgia.
For the moment, nearly 400,000 people live in Adjara, and 25% of them are Muslims. Around 40,000 Turkish citizens are at the same time citizens of Georgia due to Turkey’s economic expansion in Georgia and, first and foremost, in Adjara. Are the 0.5 mln Georgian Muslims a problem from the political point of view?
Indeed, almost 15% of the Georgian population is Muslims. However, they are not a political factor given their factionalism and low integration into the public and political life of Georgia. Muslims of Georgia are divided into different groups, religious currents. They are low educated and practically do not speak Georgian, staying aside from the public life in Georgia. Therefore, we do not take Turkey's activity as an expansion, despite regular statements of some experts on quite opposite trends.