TBILISI, DFWatch–The newly elected president of Georgia is considering showing up at the winter Olympics in Sochi, despite his country’s strained relationship with Russia.
A few days ago, president-elect Giorgi Margvelashvili said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One that he might go to Sochi to support Georgian athletes during the Olympics.
His statement was criticized by the government’s opponents. The outgoing president, Mikheil Saakashvili, vowed to boycott the Sochi Games, but the decision was reversed when the coalition that Margvelashvili belongs to, Georgian Dream, headed by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, was swept to power in the election a year ago on a promise to mend ties with Russia.
Sochi lies only half an hour’s drive from Abkhazia, a region that broke loose from Georgia in the early 1990s and has maintained its own unrecognized government with the help of Moscow. Georgia still has to deal with more than two hundred thousand internally displaced people from a mass exodus in the wake of the Abkhazian war in 1993, people who the United Nations has said must be allowed to return.
Georgia fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 over another breakaway region, South Ossetia, where tensions have been rising since summer as Russian border guards have put up razor wire and fences along the cease-fire line, claiming it as a permanent border.
Political debate in Tbilisi has centered on how to send a clear signal to the Kremlin that the borderization is unacceptable, while not derailing the process to open the vast Russian market for Georgian exports that were cut off in 2006 due to an embargo on wine and mineral water.
Vano Machavariani, advisor for Margvelashvili in foreign affair issues, told journalists that the issue of whether the new president will attend the Olympics must follow certain procedures. First of all, Margvelashvili must receive an invitation.
“There is a discussion about the Sochi Olympics and we don’t want to make decisions fast. It is a difficult situation. We will foresee everyone’s position, including people’s opinion,” he said.