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Hope for Moscow-Tbilisi relations?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, January 27
Russian President Dimitri Medvedev believes that relations between Moscow and Tbilisi will improve assuming Georgia is willing to recognize what he calls the "new reality" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. As usual, it appears as though Medvedev is parroting his predecessor (and possible successor) Vladimir Putin's ideas and words but is he also opening the door for renewed negotiation?

With his term expiring in mere months, Medvedev affirmed the Russian policy of refusing to negotiate with Mikheil Saakashvili's government, saying, I will not meet him and will not shake hands with him. Georgian officials responded to this by re-iterating their line that, regardless of the party or individual in power in Tbilisi, Georgia will not kowtow to Russian threats or demands.

Moscow has repeated its policy of non-cooperation with Saakashvili for years, even going so far as to contact members of the Georgian opposition. This strategy has had little success, however, due to its insignificant execution (and disinterested response), as well as the internationally-recognized obligation Moscow has to conduct all relations with Georgia's legal government. This binds Russia's ability to enforce preconditions for diplomacy, as few politicians in Georgia intend to govern any less sovereignty-minded than Saakashvili. Furthermore, most Georgians doubt that the larger country would be willing to conduct relations with any government, regardless of Saakashvili's involvement. Who, in the current political atmosphere, is willing to take on the burden of being the party that Medvedev (or Putin) wants to negotiate with?

That said, some analysts suggest Tbilisi should take advantage of an environment that has both Medvedev and Putin speaking, even abstractly, of dialogue. The government could potentially compile a group of high ranking Georgian officials, excluding President Saakashvili, and offer to begin a conversation. Some steps have been taken in this direction. The Larsi border checkpoint between the two countries has opened, regular commercial air flights have been restored, and Russia is even ready to resume importation of Georgian goods. There may be no better time to renew negotiations; the only realistic preconditions necessary to dialogue have been met by this thawing of relations.

If negotiations were to begin again, however, the issue of what is being negotiated over could very well stop them in their tracks. Georgia's primary concern is Russian de-facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Russian interest may be more limited such as visa-free travel or involving Georgia in the economic activities of the Commonwealth of Independent States. This kind of disconnect could spell diplomatic disaster for Georgia, especially if its sole objective is the restoration of territorial integrity.

Regardless, as both states stand on the eve of national elections, it is unlikely that a major breakthrough will occur in the near future.