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Russia's Stand By Policy

By Messenger Staff
Friday, November 30
Georgia’s new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is facing serious foreign policy challenges. On one hand Ivanishvili has declared that Georgia will continue to be oriented towards the West. On the other hand he has expressed a willingness to reestablish relations with Russia. Georgia's Western allies approve this. So far Russia has taken very few steps towards unthawing relations with its southern neighbor and has been very circumspect on commenting on the new Georgian government.

The new Georgian government has stated that belonging to NATO is not mutually exclusive with having normal diplomatic relations with Russia. But it is obvious that Russia attacked Georgia in 2008 precisely because Tbilisi wanted to join NATO. After the war the Kremlin stated it would never conduct negotiations with Saakashvili and his Rose Administration. Now Saakashvili is still President but his party is out of power. Even though the Rose Administration is no longer in charge Moscow is still frustrated by political developments in Georgia. Russia's leaders probably expected that Saakashvili would declare his party the winner in the parliamentary elections in October, which would in turn bring the protesting opposition out into the street, leading to possible civil unrest and even violent revolution.

But Georgia proved to the world that it is a maturing, democratic country. Georgian Dream won and the United National Movement conceded defeat, leading to a completely peaceful transfer of power. Now the Kremlin can no longer use the excuse of a "hostile" regime in Tbilisi to avoid having dialogue with Georgia's leadership. In another significant step Ivanishvili appointed Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze as a special envoy to Russia. Abashidze is a very experienced diplomat. Russia is now considering lifting its bans on Georgian agricultural products (primarily alcohol and mineral water) but so far no substantive steps have been taken by the Kremlin. Moscow is in a standby position. Perhaps Russia is waiting for Saakashvili to finally leave the Georgian political scene when his term as President comes up next year. Or possibly the Kremlin is expecting the UNM to regain power through snap parliamentary elections that could take place this next spring. All of this has led some people suspect that Saakashvili is actually working on behalf of Russian interests. In any event Russia has achieved its main goals vis-a-vis Georgia. Georgia is not going to join NATO in the near future. Meanwhile Russia has two military bases in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region and Russian companies freely operate in Georgia.

It was difficult for Georgia’s western friends to realize that behind the facade democracy promoted by Saakashvili and the Rose Administration, Georgia was in fact moving in the direction of autocracy. The smoothness and eloquence of Saakashvili’s public persona created the false image of a democratic president. The Georgian people clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with this state of affairs on October 1st. Prime Minister Ivanishvili wants to establish true rule of law in Georgia. Those Westerners who are criticizing him should instead put pressure on Russia to begin a peaceful dialogue with Georgia.