Irakli Garibashvili says Georgian citizens and the nation’s economy would suffer if Tbilisi sanctioned one of its largest trading partners.
Doha, Qatar – Georgia’s Prime Minister has said imposing sanctions on Russia would “destroy” Tbilisi’s economy and “damage the interests” of Georgian citizens.
Russia is among Georgia’s top trading partners but the two countries have long shared a strained relationship.
Georgia’s annual trade turnover with Russia is “less than $1bn”, Irakli Garibashvili said at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha on Wednesday. “This is ridiculous, isn’t it? That $1bn could not affect the Russian economy.”
“By comparison: The European Union trades with Russia in just four days, as much as we trade in a year. Where is the logic when we are called to introduce sanctions against Russia?”
He also drew comparisons between the international response to the 2008 Russo-Georgian war and the conflict in Ukraine, saying, “Did anyone impose sanctions on Russia because of our war? No one in the world made a formal reaction.
“Where is the logic of, ‘Our war is not a war’ but in Ukraine it is.”
The war in August 2008, which lasted a matter of days, saw Russia invade Ukraine and ultimately seize control of two breakaway regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Since the conflict in Ukraine began, Georgia, an ex-Soviet nation, has played a balancing act between its neighbour and its desire to join the European Union.
When Russia ordered a partial mobilisation last year, thousands of men reluctant to serve flocked to Georgia seeking shelter.
Earlier this month, Tbilisi lifted a Russian flight ban following a decision by Moscow.
But the two countries have not shared diplomatic relations since the 2008 war.
“Georgia is extremely in a difficult situation because of our geography, because of the ongoing occupation,” Garibashvili said.
While public support for Ukraine is strong in Georgia, critics of the prime minister and his governing Kartuli Otsneba party (Georgia Dream party) have suggested they are pro-Russian.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili and the EU condemned the decision over flights, at a time when the bloc’s airspace remains closed to Russian planes in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
“This step raises concerns in terms of Georgia’s EU path and its commitment to align with the EU in the foreign policy,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.
In Doha, Garibashvili defended the move to restart flights.
“We didn’t say that we would stop economic relations with Russia … many countries do flights with Russia,” Garibashvili said.
“This war affects all of us politically. We know that today approximately 20 percent of Ukrainian territory is occupied by Russia. This is the status quo today.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t see any sign that this war is going to end soon. This is the problem.”
With reporting by Hafsa Adil in Doha.