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Russian elections and the status quo

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, March 6
Lately, one of the hottest topics in the Georgian media has been Sunday’s Russian presidential election. Much ink was consumed speculating about manipulations, protests, and how the outcome will affect Georgia. What was not a topic of speculation, however, was the winner of the election – a prediction of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s triumph was near-unanimous.

The upcoming year will be crucial to both Russian and Georgian politics. Later this year, Georgia will hold its parliamentary elections, and a very important topic in the campaign is how to use the “Russian card”.

The Russian government tries to present Georgia as a country of consistently anti-Russian policies and propaganda. The Georgian government, meanwhile, usually lives up to that reputation, painting Russia as a new imperial aggressor. However, as Russia is currently occupying 20% of Georgian territory, there is some bite to Georgia’s bark. There are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Georgia. There is a permanent threat of repeated Russian aggression against Georgia. Georgia lives until a six-year-old economic embargo. Not to mention the personal animosity between Putin and Saakashvili, which prevents neutral and meaningful dialogue.

This is the environment into which Putin has reclaimed the Presidential office. Not only is this disheartening to Georgians seeking peace, stability, and diplomacy, but it also raises the specter of Saakshvili’s post-Presidential plans. Many opposition members worry that Putin’s example – so successful, as we saw this weekend – may be too tempting for Saakashvili not to emulate, and that he will seek the newly-empowered Prime Minister’s chair in 2013. Saakashvili following in Putin’s footsteps, ironically, would be worse for Russian-Georgian relations. Two leaders who despise each other, remaining in power for years to come, preventing the citizens of their nations from making progress.

Georgian analysts suggest two scenarios for Russia in the wake of Putin’s re-election. According to one, President Putin will turn further away from the West, and attempt to restore a Soviet-type empire. This will, quite obviously, be catastrophic for a sovereign Georgia. In the second scenario, Putin will cooperate with the West, improve relations, and facilitate the welfare of his country – concentrating his energy mainly on domestic issues. In this case, Georgia will have a greater chance to bloom. Most analysts agree that, whichever scenario occurs, another war with Russia is unlikely.

Of course, Putin will not begin his next term by addressing the Georgian issue. He has enough problems. It is likelier that he will wait until that the political situation clarifies – meaning, the results of the Georgian parliamentary elections are in. Georgia, too, will wait – as the elections may usher in a new government and a new Russia strategy.