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Strategic Patience: What are you waiting for?

By Messenger Staff
Monday, September 19
On September 15, near the Georgian-Russian border in Dariali Gorge a monastery was opened by the Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II. The patriarch expressed his vision of the new site as a portent of better relations between the two nations that exist on either side of the border. However, the very next day while opening a new National Military Academy in Gori, President Saakashvili berated Russia's continuing expansionist policy, seeing in this instead the preconditions for Russia's eventual collapse.

The stark contrast between the pronouncements of the two figureheads, underscores the fact that spiritual matters is at the moment one of the only areas of cooperation between the countries, as they both maintain majority populations of the Orthodox Christian faith. Ilia II believes this unity could bring together Georgia and Russia politically; the patriarch suggested they hold negotiations in the new monastery, the construction of which in 2005 began before hostilities flared.

Of course it is not realistic to think that such kind of reconciliation between two countries will be promoted by the construction of monastery. However, church diplomacy and shared religion could be one small area where a possibility for settling the discord might emerge.

Yet President Saakashvili used the opening of the new military academy to reiterate that the Russians continued to occupy Georgian territory close by and were ready to repeat their aggression against Georgia. Saakashvili recollected Georgia’s history when it was conquered by enemy invaders, though those enemies vanished and Georgia remained. The president predicted a dire future for the Russian 'empire', foreseeing its eventual collapse due to its imperialistic policy. However, ridding Georgia of Russian troops through force is impossible and solving the situation through good neighborly relations is unimaginable.

To get out of this fix, there is nothing else to do it seems but play the waiting game. Thus, the president was quick to pay lip service to the concept of "strategic patience," recommended to Tbilisi by the US. How much patience will be needed and until what is unclear. In any case, relations Russia-Georgia do not look to be going in the direction the patriarch wishes. In short, the words of the president made it quite clear that Georgia is not expecting any breakthrough in relations with Russia in the foreseeable future, despite the highest hopes of Ilia II.

'Russian collapse' and 'strategic patience' in the same speech was an interesting formulation. The idea of the collapse of Russia is a common theme of speculation by analysts in Russia as well as in the west convinced that the Russian Federation in its current form is unsustainable. These analysts foresee Russia’s withdraw from the North Caucasus at some point. As the wars in Chechnya show though, this will not be a quick process and Moscow has used both force and guile in co-opting elites in troublesome republics within its borders. A Russian collapse is something simply not realistically worth waiting for, at least in near future.

If Tbilisi is to use the concept of strategic patience it should be within the framework of how Georgia can move towards a democratic, prosperous and attractive state for others. If the president is waiting for anything then, it should be Georgia's own strengthening rather than Russia's weakening – though the patriarch would sooner not wait for either.