OKRUASHVILI SPEAKS OF RUSSIA, WINE, CONFLICTS

Civil Georgia, Georgia
May 2 2006

Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili has further stepped up
harsh-worded rhetoric against Russia and vowed to resign if Georgia
fails to restore control over breakaway South Ossetia by January
1, 2007.

At a political talk show aired by Imedi television on May 1 Okruashvili
spoke about relations with Russia and said while answering question
why Georgia remains in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
against the background of deteriorating ties with Russia that he will
respond to this question "in exactly one week." He declined to make
more comments on the issue.

Dubbed as hawkish Defense Minister by the opponents and media,
33-year-old Irakli Okruashvili has increased his political weight after
the President charged him to promote Georgian wine on new markets,
observers say.

This new task has also triggered rumors that Okruashvili may be
promoted at the Prime Minister's position. But Okruashvili has strongly
denied these speculations.

"My major goal, my purpose of being the Defense Minister, is
restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity. I have no other goal
more valuable than this and as soon as these two problems [the Abkhaz
and South Ossetian conflicts] are solved, I will no longer stay in
politics," Okruashvili said while speaking on the political talk show
'Pirvelebi' (Leaders).

Okruashvili reiterated his late December statement and said that
Georgia will gain control over breakaway South Ossetia by January
1, 2007.

"If we fail to celebrate New Year in Tskhinvali on January, 2007 I
will no longer be the Defense Minister of Georgia," Okruashvili said.

He said that the conflict in South Ossetia will be resolved through
peaceful means with the support of Georgia's western partners.

"In a course of this year several very important events are scheduled;
these are: G8 summit, NATO summit in November and we will spare no
efforts to solve this problem through peaceful means with the help
of our friends, our partners and especially with the support of the
United States," Okruashvili said.

After Okruashvili's highly-controversial and harsh statements
towards Russia - like "even feces can be sold on Russian market" -
his opponents dubbed Okruashvili as "provoker."

This statement has also triggered discontent among some Georgian
wine-producers, who are desperately trying to re-enter Russian market,
which was closed on March 27 after the Russian chief sanitary inspector
said Georgian wines contained pesticides.

But Okruashvili, who has just recently visited Ukraine in a capacity
of the Georgian wine promoter, says that the Georgian wine-makers
should forget about the Russian market and diversify foreign trade
to the western markets.

He said once again that the Russia is "low level consumer market" and
many Georgian wine companies should increase quality of their products.

Okruashvili admitted that his statements towards Russia are very
harsh-worded, "but this is the only language which is understood
by Russia."

"Of course we should not talk like this not only with Russia, but
with anyone. But, unfortunately, this is the only language which is
understood by Russia, this is the only effective language on which we
can talk with Russia. I have learnt this from my two, or three years
of experience of having relations with them," the Georgian Defense
Minister stated.

Okruashvili also admitted that one of the purposes of his controversial
statements was to trigger more international interest towards the
Georgia's wine row with Russia.

"My statements about Russia and stir-up about this issue was caused
by an attempt to achieve a certain international effect. Now the
international community knows that this is a confrontation between
Georgia and Russia because someone among the Russian authorities
does not like the fact that Georgia has a significant increase in
economic growth rate... and they do not like that they have failed
to decrease this figure [growing economy] through imposing energy
blockade [referring to explosions of gas pipelines this January]
and through increase of gas price," Okruashvili said.

He also accused Russian special services of masterminding provocations
in Georgia's predominantly ethnic Armenian populated town of
Akhalkalaki in order to hinder Russian military base withdrawal
from there.

"A large rally is planned in Akhalkalaki on May 3 in an attempt to
hinder first stage of Russian military base withdrawal from there
and organizers of this [rally] are employees of the FSB [Russia's
Federal Security Service]," Okruashvili said.

A small rally was held in the predominantly ethnic Armenian populated
town of Akhalkalaki on April 25 to protest against withdrawal of
Russian military base. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 26
that pullout of military hardware from the base was hindered because
of this protest rally.