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What is ‘Dialogue with Russia’?

Thursday, November 13
The EU has decided to resume its dialogue with Russia, which was suspended due to the Russian aggression against Georgia.

This decision did not make either Georgian officials or the population happy, because Moscow has not fulfilled the conditions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy six point agreement, and has moreover started increasing the number of its servicemen in Georgia, constructing military bases here and preparing itself for an ever-longer stay. We have now come to realize that it is only President Saakashvili who can insist on believing that the major topic of discussions between the EU and Russia must be Georgia. The EU thinks other issues are more important, and in those issues Russia remains a strategic partner, however many EU agreements it breaks as far as its conduct in Georgia is concerned.

After the defeat by Russia Georgia’s optimism was based on the forceful reaction of the West to the Kremlin’s conduct. Based on the noises coming out of somewhere, Russia would soon be forced into isolation and economic and other sanctions would be imposed on it. This was Tbilisi’s dream, and something it had genuinely been led to believe. However the EU pressure on Moscow has become softer. Now work on the framework agreement between the EU and Russia will start. The only EU member which stuck to the EU’s own professed position and demanded that Moscow should first fulfill its Sarkozy-brokered obligations was Lithuania, but 26 countries have now outvoted it, although they maintain that their position on the Russia-Georgia conflict is the same.

Georgian PM Grigol Mgaloblishvili has stated that starting these talks will eventually encourage Russia to be more aggressive towards its neighbours. Chair of Parliament Davit Bakradze has warned the EU not to treat Russia as an ordinary partner, and reminded it that the Georgian issue should be permanently on its agenda until Moscow fulfills all its commitments. On its side the EU has highlighted its determination to follow a serious mode of dialogue with the Kremlin. “The words, the words,” as Hamlet said. Alongside these words we can observe a number of facts, which prove that Russia has not the slightest intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories, treats our breakaway regions as fully sovereign countries and wants to guarantee their ‘sovereignty’ and territorial integrity on the expense of Georgia. Georgia is right to insist that there should be some relation between words and facts, and common principles which prevent the organization saying one thing and doing another.

The Kremlin is threatening to frustrate the Geneva meeting on November 18 by putting forward the ultimatum that South Ossetia and Abkhazia must be equal partners at the meeting, though its agreed terms say no such thing. Abkhaz leader Baghapsh goes further, and says that he does not want any dialogue with the ‘Georgian criminal regime.’ If Georgia insists the rules are followed, there will probably be no talks, and the Russians can continue disrupting them indefinitely. So things will continue, unless the EU and other parties to the Geneva talks are consistent in their approach to Russia, which they have just declared themselves not to be.

So far Georgia has only the limited resource of Western support to rely on. There is no alternative, as Georgia has cut itself off from other possible allies. It is difficult now to clearly identify where Georgia made the fatal mistake which created this situation. Five years ago things were not that good, but the territorial problems were not as bad as they are today. Maybe the mistake was assuming that the West wants Georgia as much as Georgia wants it, and rushing headlong into alliance before it saw any demonstration that the West would help Georgia, or was capable of understanding this part of the world.

Through its continued occupation Russia establishes a new order in the region. Georgia is now forced to admit that this was always likely to happen, as the West never understood the old one.