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Georgian – Russian relations: the limits of possibility

By Messenger Staff
Friday, December 26
Recently the Russian newspaper Kommersant published an article saying that the Georgian leadership is trying to restore its relations with Russia and using the head of the Georgian community in Russia Michael Khubutia for this purpose. This article created a scandal and was even discussed at a Parliament session.

Kommersant quoted Khubutia as saying that he had met President Saakashvili in Munich on November 21 and spoken with him about restoring Tbilisi-Moscow airline connections. Khubutia stated that he had a feeling that Saakashvili was ready to make contact with Moscow. “Saakashvili has changed his attitude towards NATO and Europe as he did not receive a MAP or support from Europe. Therefore he has increasingly begun to feel that dialogue with Russia is necessary,” said Khubutia. The Georgian authorities have refuted this story, and deny that any such meeting took place on November 21, but this has not satisfied the opposition. It immediately recalled that several months ago the same Kommersant published an article about a Georgian plan to divide Abkhazia into two parts. The authorities refuted this at the time too, but later Saakashvili himself confessed that such a proposal really had been made.

When this latest story broke the Parliamentary opposition demanded explanations. Opposition Vice Speaker Levan Vephkhvadze asked if such contact really had taken place and how did the restoration of diplomatic relations with Russia serve Georgia’s national interests? Speaker David Bakradze responded that “while Moscow is opening “Embassies” in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, and while Russian occupation forces are stationed on Georgian territory, no high-level contacts or the reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations will be discussed.” President Saakashvili stated at the Security Council session on December 23 that Tbilisi is ready to negotiate with Moscow, but only under two preconditions: Russia must respect the territorial integrity of its sovereign neighbour and the will of the Georgian people as expressed at the elections. The Russian administration has stated several times that while Saakashvili is Georgia’s leader, Georgian-Russian relations have no prospect of being restored. To overcome the deadlock Georgian President must resign, says Russia. So both sides have reached a dead end, individually and bilaterally, which it will take a lot of humility for either to extricate themselves from.

There are still some steps being taken in the right direction. NGOs, the Church and people’s own diplomacy are giving the country a glimmer of hope. But as Robert Lowell pointed out, the light at the end of the tunnel could just as easily be a train going in the other direction.