Water, wine to lubricate Russian talks with war foe Georgia

Fri Feb 1, 2013 2:37pm EST
 
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By Margarita Antidze

BORJOMI, Georgia (Reuters) - If there's a way to dilute the bitterness in relations between Russia and Georgia after a 2008 war, it may lie in a lush valley south of the Caucasus Mountain border between the feuding former Soviet republics.

Here flows Borjomi, a naturally carbonated mineral water of volcanic origin that had been popular in Russia since the 19th century until it was swept off the shelves when Moscow banned Georgian beverages and other products in 2006 as tensions built toward the five-day war.

Borjomi, a resort town with a mix of grand Soviet-era sanatoriums and drab apartment blocks, sent 60 percent of its production to Russia before the ban, and output plunged 43 percent to 63 million liters in 2006.

Though the town has since found other markets that more than make up for that loss, it and other producers of Georgian waters and wines would dearly love to get back into the Russian market, with its 142 million people.

They might soon get the chance.

A Georgian delegation is due in Moscow on Monday to discuss reviving trade links with Russia, and perhaps a glimmer of the warmth missing from relations since the war stoked by rising tension over Kremlin influence on two rebel regions and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's drive to join NATO.

The talks follow other tentative steps to thaw the chill since Bidzina Ivanishvili, a tycoon who made billions in 1990s Russia, became Georgia's prime minister after leading an opposition coalition to victory over Saakashvili's party in an October parliamentary vote.

The nations held their first direct talks about bilateral relations in Geneva in December, and last month the Georgian Orthodox Church leader Ilia II, one of the most respected figures in Georgia, met with his Russian Orthodox counterpart and President Vladimir Putin.   Continued...

 
Employees work at the production line of the IDS Borjomi Georgia's factory in the town of Borjomi, some 150 km (93 miles) southwest of Tbilisi, January 30, 2013. If there's a secret to taking the bitter taste out of ties between Russia and Georgia after a 2008 war, it may lie in this lush valley south of the Caucasus Mountain border between the feuding former Soviet republics. The valley is the source of Borjomi, a salty, sulphurous mineral water that was popular in Russia since Soviet times but was swept off shelves when Moscow banned imports of Georgian beverages in 2006, with tensions already building toward war. Picture taken January 30. To match story GEORGIA-RUSSIA/TALKS REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili