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Dialogue without preconditions

By Messenger Staff
Friday, July 2
President Saakashvili has stated that Georgia is ready to conduct dialogue with Russia without preconditions. Presumably this means that the existing preconditions of both sides will be lifted. However on his recent visit to the USA President Medvedev of Russia categorically excluded improving relations between the two countries while Saakashvili is President of Georgia, a rather big precondition.

The issue of bilateral dialogue between Georgia and Russia has been a very painful one for Tbilisi since the August 2008 Russian invasion. First there was an attempt by the Georgian Orthodox Church to initiate dialogue between clergy and later state officials, but the Georgian secular leadership was jealous of this attempt and it failed. From mid-2009 the opposition began taking the initiative, with former Prime Minister and now opposition party leader Zurab Noghaideli openly visiting Moscow and meeting members of the Russian leadership, soon followed by other opposition leaders. Their argument was that since the Russian authorities refused to negotiate with Saakashvili the opposition had to take this burden on their shoulders. This was a risky strategy because anyone conducting negotiations with Russian is labelled a traitor, but the opposition claimed to be responding to public demand. Indeed, many people in Georgia support the idea of holding negotiations with Moscow, but most of these think the Government should be conducting them.

At the same time as they were doing this the opposition were saying that the Government was making secret deals of its own with Russia, giving the Enguri power station and Zemo Larsi customs checkpoint as examples. Meanwhile the Georgian and Russian leaderships kept criticising each other, with The Kremlin promoting its “new reality” and Saakashvili demanding the deoccupation of Georgian territories. Therefore Saakashvili's statement that his country was ready to conduct full-scale negotiations with Russia without any preconditions was a surprise because the subjects of the current preconditions are exactly the things the two countries should be negotiating about: the return of IDPs and the deoccupation of the country.

This is quite a witty step by Saakashvili, because by taking it he puts the responsibility for frustrating offered negotiations on Moscow. If The Kremlin leadership do not want to be seen as the bad guys by the international community they will have to change their position of not talking to the Saakashvili administration. Even if such negotiations are conducted they will not bring any desirable result in the near future, as the ones in Geneva have been held for almost two years and nothing has been achieved so far. But if the offer of negotiations without preconditions changes international attitudes to Georgia and Russia this may have more effect than any negotiations.