Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on Monday sharply criticized a Russian decision to ease some sanctions on his country's breakaway province of Abkhazia.
An order signed on Nov. 7 by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin eased import curbs of citrus fruits and other foodstuffs into Russia from independence-minded Abkhazia, which broke from Georgia in 1993. The decree was published last week in the Russian press.Georgia maintains a partial blockade on the separatist government in the Black Sea port of Sukhumi intended to force it to drop its independence drive.
Previously, Moscow's naval vessels and border guards have been the key to enforcing the measures. The leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which groups 12 former ex-Soviet states, approved the steps in 1996.
"Mr. Chernomyrdin has decided to set up a greenhouse for the separatists, and in doing so has godlessly ignored all of the well known CIS decisions. Apparently he has this type of attitude to the CIS in general," said Shevardnadze.
Abkhazia's only land border, other than with Georgia, is with Russia.
Shevardnadze said the easing of sanctions was a blow to the overall authority of the CIS.
The Russian decree set a 1997-98 quota of 10,000 tons of citrus fruit from Abkhazia, which used to produce several hundred thousand tons of tangerines every year.
"I want to say to Russian citizens that those tangerines that will appear on their tables were collected in the yards of the burned-down houses of poor refugees," Shevardnadze said.
The uproar comes as Georgian and Abkhaz officials start a round of U.N. and Russian-mediated talks in Geneva on Monday.