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The pro-Russian dimension in Georgian politics

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, January 5
2009 saw some specific changes in Georgia's foreign policy. Tbilisi did not receive any assistance from the West which would have enforced the withdrawal of the Russian occupation forces from its territory. The West put no pressure on Russia to do this other than confirming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity verbally. Moreover Tbilisi was openly advised by the West to enter into dialogue with the Kremlin. This kind of attitude has aroused certain frustration towards the west in Georgia and the feeling that there is a need to reorient the country in a northern direction.

Nobody in Georgia is so naive as to think that the West will fight against Russia, this is absurd. But we thought that the Western position towards Russia would be more radical. There is an old Georgian saying: "If a bear grabs you, call him daddy.” If a nearby hunter does not help you by either killing the bear or rescuing you from its grip maybe it’s better to call him daddy.

At the first glance the NATO recommendation to start dialogue with Russia was a surprise but it is actually part of the entire Western policy towards Russia. The resetting of relations with Russia most probably concerns not only the USA but its partner countries. It is impossible for the Obama administration to reset its relations with Moscow if its partners continue to confront it. America calls and the tune must be played, according to its recommendations, if not orders. Therefore the West repeatedly insists, in different formats, that Georgia must resolve its relations with Russia and only afterwards think about joining the West.

However, were the similar recommendations not given to the Georgian administration before the war? Did the Georgian leadership listen to these recommendations? How should the Georgian people interpret such recommendations? These questions and probably many others are continually being asked. Conducting dialogue with The Kremlin would be rather difficult, because Russian leaders Medvedev and Putin keep saying that they will not conduct any dialogue with Saakashvili and his team. The Georgian leadership is ready for such a dialogue and is prepared to make concessions to preserve its position, but it is Russia, not Georgia, which refuses to enter into dialogue, a fact the West seems to have difficulty comprehending.

At present there is no official dialogue between Moscow and Tbilisi. However the Georgian opposition has already taken steps to reinstitute it, and former PM Zurab Noghaideli is particularly active in this respect. At the end of 2009 he visited Moscow several times and even met Russian PM Putin privately. So for the first time in Georgian politics there has emerged a political force which is openly pro-Moscow in orientation or at least gives huge importance to cooperation with The Kremlin. So far Noghaideli is the one filling the niche of being the 'regulator' of Georgian-Russian relations. Analyst Gulbaat Rtskhiladze says that this niche has existed for a long time but has not been filled by any opposition party due to anti-Russian prejudices. Probably this is the major reason why the Russian side is flirting with Noghaideli, organising meetings between him and Putin, releasing the youngsters detained in Tskhinvali and so on. From one point of view Noghaideli could become a real leader of the opposition by furthering these contacts, but some, in particular former MP and Minister of Economy Lado Papava, suggest that they are being indirectly coordinated by the Saakashvili administration. Papava says that Noghaideli is a suitable person through whom Saakashvili can continue to talk to the Russians whilst maintaining his aggressive public posture towards them.

So the situation is rather complicated. On the one hand there exists a reality which cannot be ignored: Georgian territory is occupied by the Russians. On the other hand we cannot regain these territories by force. So what is left? Peaceful negotiations. The best way to conduct it has yet to be determined, but dialogue with Russia is inevitable. Maybe Georgia will even be forced to sacrifice some of its Western ambitions. Who knows? But those Western ambitions will never be more than pipe dreams if dialogue is not conducted and real outcomes not achieved.