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Georgian-Russian relations: prospects and hopes for the future

By Messenger Staff
Friday, November 4
The Georgian entrepreneur Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has became the major opponent of Saakashvili in Georgia denies accusations about his affiliation with the Kremlin, while at the same time assuring the Georgian population that when he comes to power he can regulate relations with Moscow quickly.

This controversial statement has not yet been explained, nor did Ivanishvili tell how he would turn the difficult relations around with Georgia's huge neighbor. Georgia’s western allies demand that the Saakashvili administration regulate relations with Russia, although since the 2008 Russian invasion these relations have slid into "chronic crisis" mode. By recognizing Abkhazia and the South Ossetia regions as independent states, Russia practically lost the possibility of resuming any dialogue with Georgia. It is clear that whatever the administration that leads Georgia in future, the issue of restoring the country’s territorial integrity will be the Number 1 priority.

Understandably Ivanishvili is planning to revive a so-called balanced position which Georgia had during Shevardnadze's administration. During his recent press conference Ivanishvili stated that although Georgia's orientation now is pro-western, he would regulate relations with Russia simultaneously. According to him it is possible to achieve a situation where western and Russian interests will coincide and this could be used for the benefit of Georgia. However this appears to be a very general formula which could be voiced by anyone. "The devil is in the details"—the difficulty appears when finding exactly how this balance of interests will be achieved.

Thus the question remains--how will the alternative to Saakashvili's Georgian administration regulate relations with Russia? There are several factors. First of all, Russian leadership will not have a personal grudge against the new Georgian leader and they would not state a priori that they will not sit at the negotiation table together. Secondly, the potential new administration and its leader would avoid irritating and insulting comments towards Russian officials, taking a more diplomatic approach. Third, Georgia's attitude towards the Russian language, culture and history would change. Naturally the Russian language would no longer dominate Georgian culture and daily life, or even be a second language–this is being substituted by English--however the present tendency towards Russophobia would diminish. The fourth argument – that the new Georgian leadership could restore a full range of economic relations with Russia-- would be mutually beneficial for both sides. Finally, a fifth element is that the present "witch hunting" for Russian agents in Georgia would wane.

Thus, if these changes in policy take place, then the "Cold war" between our two neighboring states could stop and conditions would be created for the two leaders of the countries to meet and start a real dialogue, and even possibly find solutions for many issues.

However, there is one more serious, if not essential impediment to restoring relations. This is the re-establishment of Georgia's territorial integrity. Whatever can be accomplished by the points made above, it is crucial to understand how prepared Russia would be to make appropriate concessions--to either reverse its recognition of these territories as independent states or to propose another satisfactory solution in Georgia's interest too. This will be the most difficult situation for the Georgian administration in future; a new administration cannot make so many concessions that they raise strong discontent within the Georgian population.

The polls show that generally Georgians want relations with Russia to be regulated although they wouldn't accept that the breakaway territories would be lost forever. With the background of a very clear frustration towards the western position on restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity, there is another threat--the possibility that Russia would demand that Georgia create a confederation (as in Switzerland) instead of a federalist state (as with the Russian Federation). These are just some of the challenges Georgia would face in its foreign policy in future and of course there are issues that will need to take place first. The main one is whether Ivanishvili’s participation in the elections and victory is possible while at the same time keeping all the processes in Georgia within the framework of the law and the Constitution--then the rest can take place.