Georgia claims 'victory' in Russia WTO deal

3rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Georgia claimed a small victory over Russia on Thursday saying Russian acceptance of its conditions for joining the World Trade Organization confirmed customs frontiers.

"It is our diplomatic victory," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in comments broadcast on national television.

"What we have achieved today is a very important acknowledgment of what Georgia's customs borders are," he said.

The Switzerland-mediated deal paving the way for Russia to join the WTO after an 18-year wait will see international monitoring of cross-border trade through Georgia's Kremlin-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite Moscow's initial rejection of external oversight.

Georgia has been seeking endorsement of its 'territorial integrity' amid what it calls the Russian occupation of the two rebel regions, where Moscow permanently stationed thousands of troops after recognising both as independent states in the wake of the Georgia-Russia war in 2008.

"It is very important principle that even an occupier recognises international monitoring. Our position was crystal-clear: either this, or Russia will not become a WTO member," Saakashvili said.

Tbilisi could also benefit economically if Georgian wines and mineral waters -- banned by Moscow in 2006 as pre-war tensions escalated -- are allowed to return to the Russian market under WTO pressure.

However the separatist administrations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have expressed opposition to any international monitoring of what they see as their state borders.

"The Georgian authorities are stubbornly refusing to admit the reality that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not parts of Georgia, but independent states," the foreign minister in the rebel South Ossetian government, Murat Dzhioev, told the Interfax news agency.

Talks to finalise technical points of the agreement continued Thursday in Switzerland between Georgia and Russia, who have not had diplomatic relations since the 2008 war, with Georgian officials predicting that it will be signed within a week.

© 2011 AFP

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