Georgian Leader Retracts Claim of Takeovers by Russian Banks

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Wednesday disavowed the claim that a number of large Georgian banks were selling their assets to Russian banks.

TBILISI, February 27 (RIA Novosti) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Wednesday disavowed the claim that a number of large Georgian banks were selling their assets to Russian banks.

“Yesterday I double checked the bank information I had made public,” Saakashvili said.

“Luckily, the preliminary reports have not been confirmed, and I’m terribly sorry if I said something wrong. I would not like to cause any problems for banks.”

Saakashvili said on Tuesday evening that Russia had been buying up Georgian banks. He particularly noted that one of Georgia’s largest banks, Liberty Bank, was bought by Russia’s Sberbank, and that Alfa-Bank and GazpromBank are also planning to buy some Georgian banks.

On Wednesday, Sberbank, Alfa-Bank, Liberty Bank and Georgian TBC Bank denied that report.

However, Saakashvili said Russian banks are interested in buying Georgian banks, and that one of the Georgian banks he had named is currently negotiating a merger with a Russian bank.

“I want Georgia’s banking sector to be strong and independent, and I am very closely watching [the situation] to ensure that they [Georgian banks] do not fall under the influence of state-owned banks in a country that has an absolutely unhealthy interest in Georgia,” he said.

Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia after the two nations fought a brief war in August 2008 over South Ossetia. Georgia lost one-fifth of its territory after South Ossetia and another republic, Abkhazia, broke away and were recognized by Moscow shortly after, although both had already enjoyed de facto independence since the early 1990s, following earlier conflicts with Tbilisi. Georgia repeatedly accused Moscow of aiding the separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia at that time.

Moscow has signed economic and military agreements with both republics since recognizing their independence.

Georgian Foreign Minister Maya Pandzhikidze said earlier this month that the ongoing occupation of Georgian territory by Russia is an impediment to full-fledged diplomatic ties between the two countries, as well as a threat to national and European security.

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition won the October parliamentary election, said in November that Tbilisi was restarting its relations with Moscow “from a clean slate,” but that restoration of diplomatic relations would be linked to the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Tbilisi and Moscow have had some contacts since Ivanishvili's accession to power, with talks underway on restoration of Georgian access to Russia's wine and mineral water markets, which were closed off in 2006. Prior to the ban, Russia was the biggest consumer of Georgian wine.

Updated to correct reference to 2008 war.

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