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Normalizing relations with Russia

By Messenger Staff
Monday, December 17
The normalization of relations with Russia is among the chief priorities of Georgian foreign policy these days. Analysts, politicians and journalists alike have done much speculating around this issue as of late.

What will Moscow demand from Tbilisi in return for the normalization of relations?

This is the key question. And there are varying opinions in response to this difficult question. Some hint that a return to the CIS or joining the Eurasian Union or customs union might be a possibility. However, the Georgian leadership remains steadfast in their claims that it will follow its own state interests in this matter.

The current situation is a product of the recent change of the government that took place in October. Prior to the arrival of the Georgian Dream coalition on the political scene, Kremlin officials refused to negotiate with Georgia on account of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Moreover, the new Georgian leadership made the re-establishment of Georgian-Russian relations a key part of their campaign platform.

That said, very little has changed since the new government has come to power in Georgia. The traditional Geneva negotiations have thus far not yielded any substantive results. However, the appointment of Zurab Abashidze as Georgia’s special envoy in relations with Russia and the first meeting of high-level diplomats in this new format was one initiative that may pay dividends in Georgia's attempt to restore some semblance of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Most analysts believe that eventually Moscow will demand concessions from Georgia. Chief among these concessions is Tbilisi's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. However, the international community by-and-large recognizes these Russian-backed entities as Georgia’s sovereign territory; and Russia’s presence there is widely looked at as an occupation.

From the Georgian perspective, a complete regulation of relations with Russia would entail the eventual de-occupation of these territories. Regulation surely does not mean that Georgia will acknowledge the separation of these territories from Georgia. However, the newly established dialogue between the two states could eventually produce results. Unfortunately, Moscow would first have to withdraw from Georgia's territories, and at this early stage, this is a highly unlikely scenario.

That being said, whoever it is holding the leadership position in Georgia, they will never agree to recognize the so-called "new reality" promoted by the Kremlin.

As the long overdue dialogue with Moscow gets started, Georgians realize that the de-occupation of its territories is a long-term process and one that will be delayed for an unknown period of time. The major issue nowadays is to establish stable relations in the fields of economy, culture and the humanitarian sphere. As such, it looks likely that Russia will accommodate such baseline cooperation, as Georgian agricultural products, wine and mineral waters should soon return to Russian market.

Some skeptics believe that in return for economic cooperation, Moscow might put forth certain demands on Georgia. One possible example is the adoption of a neutral policy in the form of Georgia's return to the CIS.

Russia however, is now a member of the World Trade Organization (largely on account of Georgia’s goodwill). As such, the provisions of this organization’s charter stipulate certain commitments, and according to which, Russia cannot create additional obstacles for Georgia in its pursuit of improved economic relations.

As the early stages of this normalization process get underway, it can be said with a great amount of certainty that while Russia's future de-occupation may be highly unlikely for time being, the recognition by Georgia of its breakaway regions as independent states is equally unlikely.