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Russia not interested in a fresh start to Tbilisi-Moscow relations

By M. Alkhazashvili (Translated by Diana Dundua)
Tuesday, January 15
President-reelect Mikheil Saakashvili, as he did four years ago following the Rose Revolution, is offering to begin relations anew with Russia.

But Russian statements suggest that far from being ready to wipe the slate clean as Saakashvili takes office for his second term, Moscow is waiting for Georgia to cave on longstanding demands.

Tbilisi’s rhetoric on Russia took a noticeably optimistic turn after the January 5 presidential election. Up to then, Georgian authorities had warned of provocations and even coup attempts emanating from the Kremlin; the threat of Russian-fomented destabilization was the original justification for shuffling about the presidential and parliamentary elections to coincide later in 2008, after Russia’s own elections for the Duma and its presidency.

Yet with the presidential election past and parliamentary elections once again set for spring, Georgia is taking a tone of open-armed reconciliation with the northern neighbor. Saakashvili has even extended a very public invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend his inauguration.

But Russia has been the one country to loudly criticize the conduct, and the results, of the Georgian presidential election as undemocratic.

Russian Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin said Putin should stay well clear of Saakashvili’s inauguration, and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin has said that events last year “prove the Georgian government does not have a real interest” in improving relations with Moscow, according to Rustavi 2.

With neither Moscow nor Tbilisi about to move on years-old stumbling blocks, like customs checkpoints in separatist-controlled territory and Georgia’s veto of Russian WTO accession, Saakashvili’s reelection—cheery overtures of reconciliation aside—looks even less likely to settle tumultuous Georgian-Russian relations than it does to finally resolve the ongoing political standoff in Tbilisi.