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Russia and Georgia can bring their relations back to normal but only to a point

October 28, 2013, 17:41 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
 Photo ITAR-TASS/ Alexander Kazakov

Photo ITAR-TASS/ Alexander Kazakov

MOSCOW, October 28 (Itar-Tass) - The victory of Georgy Margvelashvili, a Georgian Dream coalition candidate, at the recent presidential elections in Georgia is putting an end to Mikhail Saakashvili’s ten-year rule and is opening a new chapter in relations between Russia and Georgia. However, experts argue to what extent the two countries will be able to normalize bilateral relations.

The name of Mikhail Saakashvili became particularly detesting in Russia in 2008 after he had ordered the Georgian army to carry out a barbaric attack on South Ossetia, which was then part of Georgia, and the positions of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict area. Russia which was obliged to protect its citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia was forced to give a military rebuff to Georgia. Soon after that, it recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another republic that used to be part of Georgia.

Shortly after those events, President Saakashvili announced Georgia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States, whose member the country had been since December 1993. Georgia broke off its diplomatic relations with Russia in September 2008.

The Georgian Dream coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili won the parliamentary elections in Georgia in October 2012.

The Georgian parliament had adopted a new constitution, which will take effect as soon as the country’s fourth president is inaugurated in November. Under the new constitution, Georgia will turn from the presidential into a parliamentary republic in which the president will no longer be in power to form the cabinet of ministers and influence the government’s decisions.

Andrei Klimov, the deputy head of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, believes that a rise to power of the Georgian Dream coalition and of a new president will “positively change the vector of relations between Russia and Georgia.”

“The Georgian Dream coalition is making rapprochement steps towards Russia. It understands that Georgia will gain more preferences from improving its relations with Russia rather than from quarrelling with Moscow,” Klimov told Itar-Tass.

The recent CIS summit held in Minsk last week extended an invitation to Georgia to return to the Commonwealth of Independent States. Klimov described that as a good sign for the prospects of Russian-Georgian relations.

“Georgia’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc) would help Georgia to solve many of its painful economic problems,” Klimov went on to say.

Klimov said that the factor of South Ossetia and Abkhazia certainly had a negative impact on development of bilateral relations. However, he believed that ‘‘Georgia’s cooperation with EurAsEc could offer a civilized solution to the problem in a historical perspective.”

The expert set an example of the European Union in which the borders were transparent. “If an EU-like integration takes place within the EurAsEc, the problem of the former Georgian territories will be removed against that background, although mentally it will certainly continue to exist,” Klimov said.

On the other hand, Klimov said that despite a territorial dispute Japan and Russia were actively developing trade and economic ties. “Economic cooperation may become a universal economic remedy for improving relations between Moscow and Tbilisi,” Klimov emphasized.

Yuri Kobaladze, a member of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and a UBS investment bank consultant, said that neither Prime Minister Ivanishvili nor the future president, Georgy Margvelashvili, would ever dare to hint that they did not have any grudges against Moscow over Georgia’s lost territories (Abkhazia and South Ossetia).

“If any Georgian politician dares to say that he agrees with Moscow on that problem, he will immediately be ousted from power,” Kobaladze said.

Georgy Margvelashvili who is likely to win this presidential election used to say during his election campaign that, “Reunification with Abkhazia and South Ossetia were the corner stone of Georgian politics. Consequently, fighting for those territories has been crucial for Georgian statehood.”

On the other hand, Kobaladze went on to say, Russia would not recall its decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Kobaladze, who is an ethnic Georgia, said it was regretful that relations between the two countries had been marred by problems.

“A whole generation of young people who do not know in which part of the world Moscow is located has grown up in Georgia,” Kobaladze went on to say.

Konstantin Zatulin, the director of the Institute of CIS Countries, told Itar-Tass that he doubted that Georgia would radically change its foreign policy after a new president had come to power. “Georgia laid down a deep track of relations with the West not only under Saakashvili but much earlier - under its first President Eduard Shevardnadze. Georgia is in great financial dependence of the West and no one will allow it to change its course. Georgia will remain a western ally in the Caucasus. The authorities in Tbilisi are going out of their way to join NATO. Georgia’s geographic position on the map of the Caucasus makes it important for the West. Georgia is a corridor to the oil and gas deposits of the Caspian Sea. That is why the West will continue its policy of keeping Georgia in its sphere of influence,” Zatulin said.

He added that neither the Georgian elite nor the Georgian people would be able to give up Abkhazia and South Ossetia that make one fourth of Georgia’s territory. Nevertheless, that problem, according to Zatulin, does not rule out a possibility for the two countries to normalize their bilateral relations. “The question is to what extent the two countries can really normalize their relations,” the Russian expert emphasized.

“From now on, the Georgian leadership will be one team. According to the new constitution, the presidential post will become symbolic and decorative while Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili will be vested with real powers. So, he is the key figure who is supposed to signal how the relations between Russia and Georgia are going to develop now,” Zatulin said.

“Georgia’s answer to the question of whether it is ready to resume diplomatic relations with Russia will be a true sign of whether a warming is really taking place,” Zatulin emphasized.