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Georgia-Russia relations in the Moscow Press

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, August 12
Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center published an article about Georgian-Russian relations in The Moscow Times on August 9. Saying the relations between the two neighboring countries have been chilled since the "little war" of August 2008, Russian policy, according to Trenin has been to allow ordinary Georgians feel the pinch of bad relations. “The “little war” of August 2008 shook the world, but it did not change it. No new Cold War followed the Russian-Georgian hostilities, but the five-day war demonstrated how brittle security in Europe is nearly two decades after the end of the real Cold War,” the author said adding that the chilling sense of insecurity pushed both sides to change their foreign policies.

Trenin suggests the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev shouldn’t wait for the end of Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidential term [in 2013] because he may change the State Constitution and follow Vladimir Putin’s example, who according to Trenin has formally stepped down as President but has retained his control as an “all-powerful Prime Minister”. “Of course, he [Saakashvili] has a constitutional mandate, but when his presidential term expires, he must leave office without “pulling a Putin” for the sake of his country and all Georgians. Meanwhile, the Russian Government should reverse its policies in favor of the Georgian people with whom Russians have traditionally had good relations,” Trenin said claiming that Medvedev-Putin policy to hurt ordinary Georgian people “by indirectly applying pressure on Saakashvili” has been a failure.

“Instead of clumsy and ineffective attempts to undermine Saakashvili – which actually strengthen his position – Russia could use its soft power to win back sympathy from Georgians and prepare for the post-Saakashvili future. Even small steps can go a long way,” said the article. Restoration of air travel, simplified visa procedures, allowing Georgian wine back to the Russian markets as well as encouraging contacts with Georgian public figures were among the issues which according to Trenin could lead to “informal decisions for the future settlement on the final territorial status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia”.

Summarising the events of the last two years, Trenin stressed that things had been rather quiet on the Caucasus front and the second anniversary of the August war was even held with no threat of any military conflict. “Russia has taken over Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s borders with Georgia, thus reducing the risk of unauthorised provocations. At the same time, European Union monitors have been observing the situation closely. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili received a clear signal from Washington that any new attempt to reintegrate Georgia by military force would not be tolerated. All is quiet in Geneva, too, where the talks always break down on the disputed issue of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Trenin stated.

Discussing the two breakaway regions, Trenin spoke of differences between the cases highlighting Abkhazia’s geography, resources and determined elite capable of nation-building will not be returned to Georgia but could trade land for peace and recognition. “Gali district with ethnic Georgians would revert to Georgia in return of Tbilisi’s recognition of the rest of Abkhazia as independent state,” while South Ossetia, to Trenin’s mind has no particular prospects to become an independent state. “Its reunification with North Ossetia would be a disaster, whether it happens within or beyond the borders of Russia. But South Ossetia would not simply fold back into Georgia,” the article stressed.

In the article Trenin suggested that South Ossetia would retain the formal trappings of independence with legal Georgian representation in South Ossetia as a guarantor of its remaining or returning Georgian population which would also protect Georgia from the threat of sudden attack against its capital. “Russia would have to pull back its forces north of the Roki tunnel, but still it would retain the right to protect South Ossetians. A joint police force would keep the peace as necessary. The bulk of concessions would fall on Georgia, but they will represent an improvement in comparison with the present situation and the indefinite period of the freeze,” explained Trenin. “Meanwhile Georgia would gain enormously as a newly consolidated nation with its conflicts resolved and relations with its northern neighbor improved. It could then focus its resources and considerable talent on the economic and social development of the country. The conflict, which put the Georgian state on the brink of collapse two years ago, will finally be history,” he concluded.

Georgian analyst Gia Khukhashvili agreed with Trenin’s concern about the differences in the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and shared his opinion with The Messenger. “The geographical location of South Ossetia makes it impossible to make a national border with Georgia and this just strengthens the prospects for the natural integration of the region [with Georgia] which is clear for any Russian or Georgian analysts working on the issue,” Khukhashvili told us. Sharing the details of the policies the two countries, Khukhashvili stressed that both Georgia and Russia are following propagandistic activities by in relaying information to ordinary people.

“Russia and Georgia would prefer to avoid discussions about the August War, thus they have monologues within their countries. As a matter of a fact both are telling lies. Claiming he won’t talk to Saakashvili, Medvedev is actually acting with pragmatism because Russia prefers the status quo in the current circumstances,” Khukhashvili stated supposing that the Georgian-Russian relations will be taken into consideration in 2011 – before the Presidential elections in Russia in February 2012. “Putin needs the Georgian issue as a “white horse” to enter the Kremlin easily as a result of the Russian pre-election campaign. Russia doesn’t need to talk about Georgia yet because the dialogue will put the country in an awkward situation. In 2011 Russia will try to find political support in Georgia or otherwise make another military provocation which, no doubt our Government will 'take the bait', ” commented the analyst hoping his doubts won’t come true.