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The Putin-Saakashvili meeting could bring good news

By M. Alkhazashvili
Monday, February 18
At the end of the week, Presidents Saakashvili and Putin will sit down for a head-to-head discussion in Moscow on the sidelines of an informal CIS summit.

Rhetoric from both men has been strong this week, with Saakashvili warning Russia not to “play with fire” and Putin body-checking everyone from Georgia to Spain in his response to recognition of Kosovo’s independence. A meeting between the two will be no less tense than current Georgian-Russian relations.

But common ground could be found. In post-meeting statements, Putin could confirm that Moscow is not planning a tit-for-tat recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia has little to gain from making good on its vague threats of recognizing other secessionist regions, and could wrest concessions from Georgia by promising not to.

Saakashvili has suggested there is impending compromise on WTO accession for Russia, something Tbilisi has blocked, insisting that two border checkpoints with Russia lying within separatist-controlled territory be “legalized.” That’s not practically feasible, so if Georgia shifts on the WTO issue, that may signal compromise in areas other than the Georgian-Russian border.

There are also concurrent talks on resuming air links and reassessing the Russian embargo on Georgia; those meetings will unavoidably be held within the context of Kosovo’s ramifications.

Georgian observers are optimistic, suggesting this week’s meetings will move the two neighbors beyond the Kosovo question and toward an improvement in Russian-Georgian relations—but the decision lies in the inscrutable minds of the Kremlin, which may just as much like to leave Kosovo hanging over South Caucasian heads.