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Opinion: Georgia aspires to end Russian occupation

Two years after the Russians invaded, the Georgian government has a plan to reunify its people.

We will soon establish a Cooperation Agency to promote business development in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in the adjacent areas of Georgia. We will help integrate them into international markets by establishing a quality-control lab to certify local products to international standards. And we will establish a private fund to aid joint ventures across the dividing lines in order to support businesses that might otherwise have difficulty attracting investment.

Infrastructure also will be developed, with funds set aside for the rehabilitation of roads in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the establishment of bus service between them and Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and a passenger ferry between the Black Sea ports of Batumi and Sokhumi.

We have even proposed providing free internet service to the whole of Abkhazia, together with free laptops to primary-school students there (as will be standard elsewhere in Georgia). Our plan also would grant residents of both areas equal access to Georgian universities and scholarship programs for study abroad.

These are just some of the programs that will be established in order to prevent communities separated by this conflict from being permanently severed economically, socially and politically from Georgia and from the international community.

There is no question that the path to reunification will be a long and difficult one, and we harbor no illusions about the challenges we face in implementing our engagement strategy. But it is the responsibility of the Georgian government to make every effort to engage and support its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia — not only to prevent their economic and political isolation, but to speed the day when internally displaced people and refugees can return to their homes.

Still, Georgia and the international community must continue to stand firm on the principle that borders cannot be changed through violence and aggression. Such methods in past centuries brought nothing but war, instability and tragedy.

What we aspire to is the end of occupation, the peaceful reunification of our country and the day when all citizens of Georgia — regardless of their ethnicity — can live together in peace and prosperity, determining their own future, and assuming their rightful place in a free and democratic Europe.

Temuri Yakobashvili is Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister for Reintegration.