Georgia PM Garibashvili in Sochi warning to Russia
- 4 February 2014
- From the section Europe
Georgia has warned it will take action if Russia makes any move to bolster the independence claims of two breakaway Georgian regions during ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
PM Irakli Garibashvili said he hoped there would be no official welcome for the "so-called Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities."
Russia is one of a few countries that recognise the regions' independence.
Georgia has had no diplomatic ties with Moscow since their brief war in 2008.
Tbilisi already expressed deep concern about Russia's decision last month to expand its Olympic security zone into Abkhazia, which is less than 40 km (25 miles) along the Black Sea coast from Sochi.
"It was a tough decision not to boycott the Games [in the first place]," Mr Garibashvili said during an interview on a visit to Brussels, where he has been meeting EU and Nato leaders.
"But if there are any surprises we will of course react adequately," he warned.
There have been demonstrations in the Georgian capital Tbilisi calling for a boycott of the Games, but the prime minister said he was trying to take a constructive approach.
"We offered to co-operate with Russia on security as well," he said. "I don't want to believe there will be any surprises, [but] this conflict issue remains the biggest concern."
If the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are given prominence at Sochi, domestic pressure to withdraw Georgia's small Olympic team will intensify.
Mr Garibashvili refused to be drawn on how exactly he would respond, but the option of withdrawal clearly remains open.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued recently that the problems between the two countries stem from Georgia's refusal to recognise realities on the ground.
"The reality is that there is only one country on our territory," Mr Garibashvili argued. "And this is Georgia."
At the age of 31, Irakli Garibashvili is the youngest democratically-elected head of government in the world. But he has a lot on his plate.
He admits that he has been watching events in Ukraine closely and "with extreme concern. "
Under pressure from Moscow, the Ukrainian government changed course last year and abandoned a wide-ranging trade and co-operation deal with the European Union, triggering the recent protests.
But Georgia is determined to continue pursuing a path of closer relations with the EU, and membership of Nato. It hopes to formally sign its own partnership deal with the EU later this year.
That is why many in Georgia are braced for a lot more pressure from Russia on this issue once the Winter Olympics are over.
Mr Garibashvili himself strikes a note of defiance, while trying to hold out an olive branch.
"We are less dependent on Russia - [it] doesn't have so many political or economic leverages on us," he said.
"[But] we have to convince Russia that Georgia's Euro-integration is not a threat. Russia should be interested in having a strong, reliable and democratic neighbour."