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Russia’s Abkhazian blackmail

Thursday, March 13
With NATO’s summit in Bucharest just weeks ago, Russia has not been subtle in making its point: Georgian accession is a bad idea for Tbilisi, and a bad idea for Europe.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, says that Georgia’s two secessionist conflicts will really start to boil if Tbilisi looks set to join the Alliance, overtly hinting that Moscow will formally recognize—and aid—their independence.

The Russian Duma is now mulling over whether to recommend recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the final statement won’t carry much practical weight, but it will serve as an opportunity to give Tbilisi a taste of things to come.

Moscow is trying to force Georgia into a choice: NATO or territorial restoration.

There are, however, no guarantees for Georgia that territorial integrity will be restored if it bows to Russian demands. Today’s leadership looks supremely unlikely to abandon its bid for Euro-Atlantic integration.

But as much noise Russia makes over the issue, it’s actually domestic reforms, where the government has fallen short on rule of law and judicial overhaul, which pose the biggest hurdle for Georgian accession.

Russia, perceiving the unlikelihood of Georgia receiving a Membership Action Plan at the April summit, may be using the Abkhazia card to give the illusion of great sway over NATO decision making. If President Mikheil Saakashvili fails to bring home a MAP next month, Moscow can point, disingenuously, to Rogozin’s message this week as the reason.

In any case, Tbilisi’s foreign patrons will face a tough sale in the weeks leading up to the summit.