Talks between Russia and Georgia on the former’s joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) have got underway in Bern, Switzerland, where Georgia's stance is a roadblock to Russia’s being able to clear the final hurdle. The desired goal seems to be within Russia’s grasp: some remarks by the US delegation accompanying Vice-President Joe Biden reveal that the United States sees Russia’s being part of the WTO as already long overdue. Gennady Onishchenko, the Russian chief sanitary inspector, has made cautious and ambiguous statements, apparently keeping the negotiations in mind, about possibly allowing Georgian wine back on to Russia’s market.
There have always been people among the global elite whose words dictated the behavior of millions of people. Take, for example, Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: the global economy seemed to obediently follow his gestures and mantras. Russia also has a man who can take the place of a military armed to the teeth. His name is Gennady Onishchenko, one of the few imbedded career government servants from the past two decades; he has been chief sanitary inspector for the past 15 years.
Russia has always had its own list of pariah states depending on the political environment of the time. Onishchenko, who also serves as the head of Rospotrebnadzor, the Federal Service for Consumer Rights Defence, has targeted these states with his surgical strikes in the past. Verbal interventions have left trade ties with entire nations in ruins, just look at what happened with Moldavian winemakers or Polish meat producers. Latvia and Georgia are yet two more great examples: Onishchenko’s distaste for sprat coincided with the top level officials’ distaste for Latvia.
Long before the Russia-Georgia war broke out in August 2008, Onishchenko took a swipe at Georgia by banning the imported Georgian wine and Borjomi mineral water. His ban gave these drinks a rightful dissident status: for example, a friend of mine invites people over for some Georgian wine every time he brings some in from Minsk, Belarus…
For his outstanding achievements in the fight with Georgia, Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia, awarded Gennady Grigoryevich with a South Ossetian passport, the Order of Honour and a thin-base encrusted vase. It is hard to imagine how Onishchenko was able to find common ground with the South Ossetians. After all, he is supposed to be a teetotaler…
Thus, following in the footsteps of a myriad of poets — from Mandelstam to Akhmadulina, whose poems he would find in grave violation of sanitary and epidemiological regulations, — Onishchenko has once again made his voice heard about Georgian wine. The wine, he said, may yet come back to Russia: “Moldavian wines are back on the Russian market, so why not? They simply have to undergo the standard market authorisation procedure.” (For some reason, no such procedures could remedy the situation before.) With that, he also promised to introduce more rigorous quality-control measures after “Georgian wine had its quality completely and utterly discredited”. Who was responsible for doing so, however, the chief medical officer modestly failed to mention.
Airline travel between Georgia and Russia is being resumed, although slowly and only partially. Now, Georgian wines have suddenly returned to the political limelight. Are these the first signs of a thaw in the countries’ bilateral relations? Are these merely sanitary support measures for the Bern talks? Perhaps. It is, however, still too early to pop the cap on your Borjomi, which is along the lines of what Onishchenko, acting as Russia’s shadow foreign minister, said, and rather frankly at that. You might suppose that what he was trying to get across was that Yessentuki mineral water is better for your health than Borjomi. This directly points to Borjomi’s opaque prospects in Russia, as well as to uncertainty in their being a reset in Russian-Georgian relations.
The principle “If it’s Soviet, it’s superior. If it’s Russian, it’s good” is the central talking point of our country’s shadow foreign policy doctrine. For instance, frozen chickens from Europe and toys from China are bad for you, and you should spend your vacation time in Russia. If you go somewhere abroad, you might get swine flu…
A besieged fortress with a sanitary cordon and provision of sanitary-epidemiological aid for South Ossetia is the picture of an ideal state in the eyes of our shadow foreign affairs ministry. Former Soviet Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrei Gromyko themselves would envy Onishchenko’s effectiveness and uncompromising principles.
Incidentally, it was Onishchenko’s idea to call Georgia, with its discredited wines and poisoned mineral waters, a ‘national territorial subdivision’. This is rightly so, seeing as how you can’t find a single honest person even in “the smallest tavern” in Georgia. In that respect, it seems, Onishchenko and Osip Mandelstam are like two peas in a pod.