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Prospects for Georgian-Russian relations

By Messenger Staff
Friday, July 17
There is no doubt that for Georgia bilateral relations with Russia are extremely important. Some current events have made them even more vital. US President Obama’s visit, his comments on Georgian-Russian relations and the visit of Russian President Medvedev to the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, have created new problems and challenges for Georgia. In a week’s time US Vice President Joe Biden will be here, and it is being speculated that Russian PM Putin might therefore make a counter visit to Sokhumi, complicating matters still further.

Three weeks from now we will see the anniversary of the Russia’s attack on Georgia. One of the major outcomes of Obama’s visit to Moscow was that he received a certain assurance that Russia will not repeat its military assault on Georgia, at least this summer. After Obama’s remarks all Georgian politicians and political analysts started expressing their confidence that the threat of this has diminished. During his Tskhinvali “blitzkrieg” Russian President Medvedev stated that “Changing the Saakashvili regime is a task for the Georgian people.” This would seem to confirm the impression given by Obama, as it implies that Russia is not going to intervene in Georgia’s domestic politics, although last year it claimed several times that one of its objectives was to overthrow the Georgian Government. So now Georgians should be able to sigh with relief, but can we really?

Provocations are still taking place around Georgia’s genuine political borders and its administrative boundaries with the breakaway regions. Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra has speculated that Moscow might initiate anti-terrorist operations to calm the situation in the North Caucasus. Russia has accused Georgia of supporting terrorist actions on its territory, and the Kremlin could use this as an excuse to start a special operation to liquidate a ‘terrorist network’ on Georgian territory. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Edeleev stated some time ago that according to his information 60 boeviks (fighters) are expected to cross the Russian border from the Georgian side. Furthermore Russia is urging the world not to “dramatise” Medvedev’s recent unannounced visit to South Ossetia, as reported elsewhere in this edition of this paper, while at the same time saying that the reset in US-Russian relations is affected by “actions, not words,” a challenge for the West to take some action if it wants to stop such visits. Of course Georgians are not so naive as to believe that any action will be taken, though it is a lovely dream

Here in Georgia both the political establishment and the general population continue to be optimistic and hope that Western support will deter Russia from attacking Georgia. However the Kremlin is still steadily trying to get the West accustomed to the idea that a ‘new reality’ meaning two puppet ‘states,’ exists on the occupied Georgian territories. So far no one has recognised these so-called countries apart from Nicaragua and Russia, and we really doubt that the Nicaraguans did this according to their own understanding of the situation but rather because they want to please Moscow. The world supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity but it is unrealistic to share the optimism of President Saakashvili, who has stated that Georgia’s deoccupation should now begin. It would be better if such emotionalism was abandoned as it might lead to further frustration.

Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze thinks it is unlikely that Russia will renounce its recognition of the breakaway states. It is likely that current situation will be in place for some time. We should be prepared not to expect cardinal changes in the near future, states Abashidze.

The Georgian side refuses to restore diplomatic relations with Russia until it closes its Embassies in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, but Tbilisi is ready to open the Zemo Larsi customs checkpoint for humanitarian reasons and to further Armenia’s interest. Some political analysts go further, and suggest Georgia should change its foreign policy priorities, reverse its course towards NATO membership and declare neutrality. They say that only if this happens will Russia agree to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity in the form of a confederation. This however is an old Russian design for Georgia, and it is hard to say whether it would prove at all viable.

Relations between the two countries are in deadlock. It is difficult to make any reliable and solid prognosis. One thing is inevitable however: further Russian-inspired provocations on the administrative borders of the breakaway regions. Are these designed to achieve greater co-operation and understanding between the Russian and Georgian nations?