Georgia to end visas for Russians

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 28, 2012 2:16 PM
Georgia to end visas for Russians

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia will abolish visas for Russians as it tries to attract bigger investment, President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Tuesday in a rare gesture of goodwill between the former Soviet republics which fought a war in 2008.

The Kremlin has refused to have any contact with Saakashvili since Russia crushed an assault by Georgia's U.S.-trained military on the Russian-backed rebel region of South Ossetia in August 2008.

But Saakashvili, who came to power in 2003, said Tbilisi wanted to abolish visas to send a signal to Russian businessmen and tourists that Georgia would welcome them.

"We want to give peace a chance and to step up with an initiative to abolish the visa regime with Russia unilaterally," Saakashvili said in parliament during his annual address to the nation.

"Let all Russian businessmen know that Georgia is as attractive country for them as any other," said Saakashvili, adding that Georgia's aspirations to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union remained firmly in place.

Saakashvili said Georgia's decision not to block Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization showed Tbilisi wanted to improve ties with its former imperial ruler.

However, Vladimir Putin's expected victory in Russia's March 4 presidential election is unlikely to usher in an improvement in ties with Georgia.

The biggest trade partners of Georgia's $15 billion economy are Turkey, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. The biggest trade partner of Russia's $2.1 trillion economy is the EU.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)