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Different factors in Georgian-Russian relationship

By Messenger Staff
Friday, April 24
Sometimes certain political analysts say that personal relationships are the source of the confrontation in Georgian-Russian relations. Of course personal factors play some role in the relations of a country, and personal sympathies or antipathies, interests and other factors might affect any relationship between two countries. But we think personalities are not the issue in this case.

There are rumours that Saakashvili has several times made sarcastic comments about the height of Vladimir Putin.Heads of State should conduct themselves according to their state interests, particular in circumstances such as those presently existing between Georgia and Russia. Conversely, the various Russian leaders have personally disliked all the Georgian Presidents. They did not like President Gamsakhurdia because he continually attacked the Soviet Union and eventually took Georgia out of it. Moscow did not like Shevardnadze either as he was accused of facilitating the collapse of the Soviet Union and withdrawing the Soviet Army from Afghanistan and then Europe. The destruction of the Berlin Wall was also partly attributed to him. He also was hated by the Kremlin for first suggesting a transit corridor which would break the Russian monopoly on transporting energy from Asia to Europe and for being the first to knock on NATO’s doors, an issue which rumbles on to this day.

When Shevardnadze stepped down after the Rose Revolution it was said that the personal Shevardnadze factor would no longer influence Georgian-Russian relations. Indeed when Saakashvili came to power the Russian political elite did not have any significant negative attitude towards him. Rather, he was seen as the one who had kicked the disliked Shevardnadze out of office. Saakashvili declared on the day of his inauguration that he was stretching out a hand to Russia and suggested restarting bilateral relations with a blank sheet.

Five years have since passed. Nothing positive has come out of Saakashvili’s attempts to improve relations. On the contrary, Georgian-Russian relations have transferred from verbal confrontation to military and Russia has occupied about 1/5 of Georgia’s territory. Alongside that a noticeable personal animosity has developed between the Georgian and Russian leaderships and it would be naive to assume there is no connection between the two.

It is very difficult now to identify precise reasons for this or anatomize the development of the personal hatred which transformed into military aggression. Maybe it was triggered by the wave of colour revolutions. Saakashvili started imagining himself a leader of such revolutions and frequently stressed the “new geopolitical reality.” Comrade Stalin could have called this someone getting dizzy with his success. Russia did not like the colour revolutions, saying that they were a US project targeted at reducing Russia’s geopolitical importance. Thus Saakashvili became a villain in Russia while the Georgian leadership overestimated the extent of the support it might receive from the West and did not properly and realistically evaluate the possibility of Russian aggression.

So personal factors definitely play a part. However the major problem in bilateral relations might be considered to be the Kremlin’s support of the separatist regimes in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. This began long ago, when the territorial problem was inserted into this region at the beginning of the Bolshevik era. It was then aggravated in the 80s of the last century by the principle of divide and rule. Moscow triggered separatism in Georgia to prevent Georgia’s separation from Moscow. Again it is difficult to estimate precisely to what extent personal factors between Yeltsin and Shevardnadze played a part in this but whatever the cause we are in the situation we are in now. Today Russia recognizes as independent states territories which Georgia considers to be occupied parts of Georgia.

From time to time Russian politicians and experts make statements designed to help destroy Georgia’s statehood as such. They realize that Georgia may now be the number one enemy of Russia, and that although it is a very small country it will never accept the loss of its territories and will do its utmost to recover them. Most probably the administration after Saakashvili will be more strict and consistent in opposing these statements, as Saakashvili has little room to make statements given his very low rating and support among the Georgian population. An effective Government with some popular support is always able to do what it wants rather than what circumstances force upon it, as the Russian Government, not excessively popular and hemmed in by Russia’s crumbling economy, knows very well.

It is said in both Georgia and Russia that it is in the best interests of Moscow to keep Saakashvili as Georgian President because under him Georgia is very unstable and cannot concentrate its resources against the enemy. The Saakashvili administration has lost the trust of the population and all its efforts are targeted at keeping itself in power rather than recovering the lost territories. Therefore we come to the absurd conclusion that the Kremlin hates Saakashvili but wants him to remain as Georgia’s leader. This shows us that though personalities play a part in international relations, there are some things more important, self-interest being one of them.