Vienna, September 1 – Tbilisi’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Moscow following the Russian invasion has left ethnic Georgians living in the Russian Federation with fewer defenders, created new complications for Georgians with dual citizenship, and set up new obstacles for Russian citizens who may want to travel to Georgia.
The Georgian government’s action has not led to the closure of its consulate in Moscow – Under diplomatic rules, consulates can continue to function even after a diplomatic break – but it remains unclear which third country embassy will house a Georgian interest section – those of Ukraine and Azerbaijan are most often mentioned (www.izvestia.ru/politic/article3120013/).
After the diplomats of Georgia and Russia who are in the process of returning home, the people most immediately affected by this decision are the estimated half million ethnic Georgians living in the Russian Federation and their families at home who often depend on transfer payments from their relatives working abroad.
Given the rising hostility to Georgians that the Russian media have whipped up over the conflict, many of these people are at risk of being attacked by xenophobic groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) and skinheads and now they face these threats without the protection that embassies can give.
Not surprisingly, given its earlier call during the course of the Russian invasion for Moscow to intern all Georgians living in the Russian Federation, DPNI’s website yesterday celebrated reports that the Russian militia is stepping up its fight against “the Georgian mafia” in Russia (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/9860/).
But as commentaries in the Moscow media have pointed out, the Georgians in Russia face other problems: First, it is unclear how the Georgian consulate in Moscow will be able to intervene on behalf of Georgians who live far from the Russian capital. Second, it is uncertain how they will be able to send transfer payments home.
And third, given that some of them now have married Russians or have taken Russian citizenship, it is unclear how they will arrange to travel to Georgia, a problem that may be especially acute in the case of Georgians living in the southern portions of the Russian Federation and in border areas there.
That is because Tbilisi has changed the rules for getting a visa, something that affects both Georgians in that category and Russian citizens more generally. In the past, such visitors could obtain a visa at border crossing points by paying a little more than 40 U.S. dollars, but now Russian citizens must obtain one in a third country.
At the very least, that will complicate the lives of those Russian citizens who had wanted to travel to Georgia, and more likely, it will lead to a significant decline in the number doing so, depressing investment in the Georgian economy and making it more difficult for Tbilisi to rebuild after the devastation visited upon that country by Russian forces.
Not surprisingly, Russians and Russian officials are outspokenly angry about all this, but so too are at least some ethnic Georgians in Russia. A Moscow priest whose church houses the parish of the Georgian Orthodox Church there said today that Tbilisi’s decision “will create difficulties” for innocent people (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=22457).
No one can blame Tbilisi for breaking diplomatic relations with Moscow. That is the normal course of action for a government whose territory has been invaded by the armed forces of another state. But given the interrelationships of these two countries, this move will have serious human consequences, which tragically some in each capital are quite ready to exploit.