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Much ado about Putin’s toast

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, November 26
The Georgian media and some politicians have been discussing the toast Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made during the 80th birthday celebrations of former Russian PM and well-known public figure Evgeny Primakov. It was reported that his words, which in fact remain obscure, were a recommendation as to how to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Evgeny Primakov spent his childhood and youth in Tbilisi. He has many friends and relatives here because his late wife was Georgian, and when on November 16 he celebrated his birthday he invited many of these. Putin was also there and made his toast. Georgia’s former President Eduard Shevardnadze has stated that he thinks Putin’s toast was a hint at something very significant, and something good, that it is possible to restore relations with Russia. “If we solve our own problems here, everything will depend on how we take this chance hinted at by Putin. He is not an ordinary person. The former President and present Prime Minister of Russia plays the decisive role in Russian policy today,” stated Shevardnadze.

One of the leaders of the National Forum, Gubaz Sanikidze, says almost the same. He suggests that Putin’s toast was received positively in Georgia. Maybe it indicated that Russia will agree to the territorial integrity of Georgia under some preconditions. Putin's words are a very serious political message from the Russian leadership, thinks Sanikidze.

Something was highlighted and we cannot ignore it, says former Communist functionary Armaz Saneblidze. Commentators also think that Putin wants to create an image of a constructive partner and convince the international community of his humanity and desire to be a good neighbour. Maybe Putin's toast was pre-prepared. All these comments are very interesting, but there is serious doubt about whether Putin really said what has been reported. Maybe his reported words are a misinterpretation by journalists of the comments of those who heard them.

Among Georgian children a game called ‘broken telephone’ is very popular. The first child whispers a word into the second child's ear, and he/she in turn whispers the same word to a third child, the third to a fourth and so on until the line of the maybe ten or more children ends. The last child says the word he/she received out loud and it sometimes appears that the first child had said an absolutely different word. It is possible that the same has happened with Putin's toast, passed through the ears of so many reporters before arriving to Georgia.

Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze says that he attended the celebration and Putin said that there is no dead end in any situation, particularly while such people as Primakov exist. Abashidze insists that Putin said nothing about the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity and his words have been exaggerated by journalists. The speculation in the Georgian media is designed to clean up either Russia's or Putin’s image and create the idea that if the Georgian leadership behaves properly Russia will return the occupied territories. But what would constitute 'behaving properly?' Most probably, from the Russian point of view, this means distancing Georgia from the West.

Maybe the reports of what Putin supposedly said are part of a bigger game. Georgia plans to reopen the Larsi checkpoint, the only land connection with Russia, so maybe these reports are being made to justify this step. Otherwise it would be very difficult to understand why Georgia is opening its border with a country which occupies 1/5 of its territory. Is this being done only for the sake of Armenia then? There are many questions which a toast alone will not answer.