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Georgia-Russia: Deadlock continues

By Messenger Staff
Monday, December 24
As of late, Russia’s foreign policy has become quite active as it relates to Georgia. Russian President Vladimir Putin answered questions posed by the media recently and spent a great deal of time addressing issues pertaining to Russian-Georgian relations.

It is widely known that prior to the October 1 elections; there was absolutely no communication between Moscow and Tbilisi. So long as Mikheil Saakashvili remained Georgia’s leader, meaningful dialogue between the two countries was impossible. With the arrival of Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition, all that has changed.

Right out of the gate, Prime Minister Ivanishvili demonstrated Georgia’s goodwill for possible cooperation between Tbilisi and Moscow by appointing diplomat Zurab Abashidze as a special envoy in Georgian-Russian relations.

President Putin however, in a recent speech, has already hinted at the possibility of preconditions regarding the progression of Russian-Georgian relations:

“Honestly speaking, I do not know how to regulate this issue. Russia will not renounce Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Georgia will not agree to recognize their independence. Therefore I cannot imagine what could be done under this situation,” Putin stated.

About ten days ago Zurab Abashidze met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Karasin in Switzerland. Before the meeting, the Georgian diplomat explained that negotiations would be about the issues that are less confrontational. After Putin’s statement, it is obvious that it is useless to speak with Moscow regarding Georgia’s territorial integrity or matters related to the de-occupation of its breakaway territories– at least for the time being. The public should have no illusions: a breakthrough will not take place on this issue anytime soon.

There are however, various opinions concerning the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity without harming Russian interests. Analyst Kakha Gogolashvili suggested a very interesting approach: “Russia should not renounce its recognition of independence, but it should facilitate conflict resolution between Georgia and its breakaway territories in order to foster a situation where S. Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgia can agree on certain issues themselves.”

This requires that Russia not create obstacles for the direct communication between Georgia and the breakaway regions. However, this approach also has some faults. Abkhazians and Ossetians will do nothing without the preliminary consent of the Kremlin. There are certain steps that should be taken in the case that Russia accepts such an approach. The first would be a goodwill gesture from Russia to cease encouraging other states to recognize these territories as independent. This would demonstrate that Moscow’s approach is constructive and realistic.

However, many analysts express their skepticism as to how reliable a partner Moscow is. This is the most acute political issue whereas other issues remain just problematic. For example trade relations: this means that Georgian wine and mineral waters as well as other agricultural products will be returning to Russian market. The Russian President stated that Russia is committed to its obligations on trade it must adhere to as a WTO member. Therefore Moscow has agreed to allow Georgian products on its market. Putin said for Russia it is not a very important decision, whereas for Georgia this will be of vital interest to the country.

Although details are not available about the Abashidze-Karasin meeting, on his return to Georgia, Abashidze mentioned that Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories must be amended. This means that Russia demanded that from Georgian side.

One could say that already, the beginning of negotiations between Georgia and Russia are putting some intriguing issues on the table.