As Georgia and Russia prepare to drown the memories of their 2008 war in wine and water, Georgia's legendary mineral-water company Borjomi, the nation's carbonated pride and joy, has been sold to a Russian firm.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, a Kremlin-friendly investment group, has purchased a controlling stake in the production of the salty-tasting Borjomi, Georgian and Russian news outlets reported on January 27. The family of the late Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, who owned the stake, confirmed the deal, estimated at $300 million, but noted that they will retain a role in the company's management.
The controversial sale -- some Georgians view it as part of a sell-out to the enemy -- comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's attempts to find a way to Russian hearts through Russian stomachs. Next week, Moscow will host key talks on canceling the prohibition on Georgian drinks, which has put the Russians on a Georgian-free diet since 2006. At the time, Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s top food-taster, declared that beverages from NATO-aspiring, US-friendly Georgia were inimical to Russian health.
But Onishchenko, head of the Rospotrebnadzor food safety agency, has found recently that Georgian beverages are not so bad after all; especially after Russia-bashing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party lost in Georgia's October 2012 parliamentary elections.
He said that he might inspect production facilities on the ground to make sure they meet Russia’s supposedly high food standards. But many commentators, both in Russia and Georgia, believe that Russian food officials will be happy with any Georgian drink as long as it no longer tastes like Saakashvili.