WASHINGTON – A fight over wine found its way here this week,with Russia and the Republic of Georgia disputing the reason Russia has banned all imports of Georgian wines.
Georgian Ambassador Vasil Sikharulidze said he sees an “entirely political motive” in Russia's ban.
Sikharulidze said Tuesday at a press conference that Russia is an “important market” for Georgian wine. In 2005,wine exports brought about $60 million into the state budget,and almost 90 percent of that comes from exports to Russia.
In late March Russian consumer and health authorities imposed a ban on wine imports from Georgia and Moldova. The agency claimed tests showed that 60 percent of samples from the two countries did not meet Russian health-safety standards.
“We are trying to negotiate,and hopefully will come to some results,” Sikharulidze said,adding that the import ban affects both Georgians and Russians.
He rolled up his eyes and said Georgian wine is “very humbling” and that it is “unpleasant for Russian citizens” that there is no more wine left on store shelves.
Diplomats from the Russian embassy said the Russian authority's resolution to ban wine imports “had no political implication.”
“It is solely a heath-safety issue. The Russian side is ready to resolve this issue in a civilized manner,” said a spokesman for the embassy who declined to be identified by name.
The embassy of Moldova said no officials were available for comment.
Georgia and Moldova are well-known among former Soviet republics for their wines. Although the wine is available in the U.S.,Sikharulidze said few people are aware of it.
The Russian-Georgian relationship has cooled since Georgia's 2003 “Rose Revolution.” That's when former opposition leader and pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili took over from Eduard A. Shevarnadze,the former Soviet foreign minister who was Georgia's first president.
Wine isn't the only thing about which the two countries disagree. The major battle is over South Ossetia,a Georgian republic. It has declared its independence from Georgia but hasn't been recognized as a distinct state by any other country.
South Ossetia's authorities want Russia to proclaim it as a part of Russian territory. Georgia claims South Ossetia belongs to Georgia and wants Russian peacemakers out of the region.