Russia may lift ban on Georgian wines and mineral waters

  • @shaunwalker7

For six years, Russian supermarket shelves have not stocked Georgian wines or mineral waters, which have always held a special place in the Soviet and then the Russian psyche.

The ban, which was ostensibly for health reasons but was clearly politically motivated, may now be lifted after a change of government in Georgia.

Russia’s health and sanitary agency banned all imports of wine and water from Georgia in 2006, as relations between the two countries deteriorated prior to the brief war they fought in 2008.

The move stripped Georgia, a largely agrarian country, of its largest market, and forced Russians visiting the hundreds of Georgian restaurants in the country to wash down their meals with French or Italian wines.  

In Georgian parliamentary elections last month, the party of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili was defeated by a coalition led by Bizdina Ivanishvili, a zebra-keeping billionaire who made his fortune in Russia and has promised to improve relations between the two countries. One of the first steps could be the return of the wine trade.

“To talk about concrete steps, we are looking at returning Georgian wine to our markets,” said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrei Denisov, this week. “Both sides are ready to get to work on the issue.” In Georgia, the new government has brushed off allegations that Mr Ivanishvili is a Kremlin stooge, and insists that he merely wants better relations with Georgia’s overbearing northern neighbour.

At home the new government has begun a crackdown on allies of Mr Saakashvili.

A number of people have been arrested, including former Defence and Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia who faces charges of torture and is currently in jail. Several more interior ministry officials were arrested today.

The President will remain in office for another year, leading to an unprecedented power split now with Mr Saakashvili still technically in charge, but the parliament controlled by Mr Ivanishvili.

Most of the president’s powers will be transferred to the Prime Minister in January, under long-planned constitutional reform. For now, they are involved in an uneasy power-sharing agreement, but are constantly swapping sharp rhetoric and accusations.

Mr Ivanishvili has called on Mr Saakashvili to move out of his presidential palace out and work from a government office building instead, claiming that the annual electricity bill for the building is around £300,000, and threatening to turn the lights off if his foe does not comply.