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After Moscow meeting, relief for Georgia

Wednesday, February 27
President Mikheil Saakashvili crowed that Georgia’s separatist regimes walked away from Moscow empty-handed. That is a victory he well deserves to enjoy.

It was entirely possible, albeit not likely, in the last two weeks that Russia would formally recognize Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence. The Kremlin was smarting from a humiliating defeat on Kosovo’s independence, and Georgian-Russian relations were coasting along at a near-record low point. A retaliatory Russian recognition of other self-declared republics may make Russian neighbors like Kazakhstan, with its ethnic Russian-populated north, queasy, but it would not change the military status quo in Russia’s separatist-minded North Caucasus republics.

Saakashvili’s visit to Moscow last week produced lukewarm nods to improved relations from the Russians, but it also put to rest speculation of an immediate recognition of the breakaways. The secessionist leaders, visiting just before the Georgians, came away talking about a continued fight for independence, and a reassessment of trade relations between Russia and their client regimes in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. They surely hoped for more.

The danger is not past. Moscow left it up to Georgian officials to assure the world that Russia would not recognize any separatist regions. This leaves the threat dangling, if less precipitously, over Georgia and others who have displeased Russia.

But relations look on the mend, and Saakashvili’s government gets the credit. The president’s rhetoric in Georgia often borders on the bellicose, but whatever his delegation said in Moscow has calmed a volatile situation.