The messenger logo

What does ‘improving relations’ mean?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, June 25
During his visit to the USA Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stated that relations with Georgia should be improved. He said that this could be done if the outcome of the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia was legalised and that Georgia should acknowledge this. Such a step would of course relieve Russia of its legal obligations and brush under the carpet its violations of international law. Georgia should not ignore the possibility of conducting dialogue with Russia but the target of this dialogue should be to achieve a Russian withdrawal from the occupied territories, not legalise its presence and actions there.

Many here in Georgia and worldwide expected Obama to demand that Russia withdraw its occupation forces from Georgian territory when he met Medvedev. Of course this would not have happened immediately but making the demand would have been a sign that the US reset policy with Russia does not mean abandoning Georgia and indirectly declaring that Georgia is part of a Russian 'sphere of influence'. However by the time this editorial was prepared this had not happened. The US has already accepted that Georgia’s territorial integrity will not be restored in the near future. Of course the Russian leadership, at any level, do not like the international community talking about the deoccupation of Georgia and the ceasefire agreement commitments Russia has not met. The Kremlin prefers to talking about improving relations with Georgia on its own terms.

From The Kremlin's point of view improving relations with Georgia is dependent on Georgia recognising the occupied territories as independent entities and ultimately, though it won't say it yet, accepting their incorporation into the Russian empire. Georgia however maintains that both sides must fulfill the terms of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement (as everybody admits, Georgia has already fulfilled all its commitments), international observers must be allowed to monitor the situation in the occupied territories, Georgian IDPs must be able to return to their homes under guarantees from the international community and only Georgia and Russia should sign any agreement on the non-resumption of hostilities. Tbilisi has stated its position many times and the West is well aware of it. Now the issue is whether the West will support Tbilisi and defend its position. If not the talks with Russia could last forever and still yield no viable results.

Medvedev's ‘peace initiative’ also includes his traditional personal attack on President Saakashvili. The Russian President absolutely refuses to improve relations or start dialogue with Georgia while Saakashvili is its President. This is a convenient way for Russia to delay holding any serious negotiations until 2013, when Saakashvili's second term expires. Ironically however there is now a high possibility that Saakashvili will then become Prime Minister for at least 4-5 years. The Putin-Medvedev tandem is also prepared to continue governing Russia for another 7-10 years, so this stipulation is another obstacle to serious dialogue artificially created by the Russians.

One possibility is that the West might start thinking that the Saakashvili factor is hindering the process of reconciliation and maybe he will be advised to resign from the leadership. It is however doubtful whether he would accept such advice, or whether any President of anywhere should be asked to step aside just because the US and Russia have some problem in their relations.