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Tbilisi-Moscow relations to get slightly better after Georgian opposition takes power

October 10, 2012, 16:02 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russia’s relations with Georgia after the Opposition has won the parliamentary elections in that country will surely get better, but only slightly, most Russian experts have been saying. There will be a thaw, but no more than that, they say in chorus. The main obstacle standing in the way of the normalization of relations is the conflict over the two former Georgian autonomies – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has recognized as independent states, while Georgia keeps arguing both are its territory and shows no sign of backtracking under any circumstance. Many of the parties within the winner coalition are for the restoration of contacts with Moscow, but, just as their opponents, strongly adhere to the idea of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

In the October 1 parliamentary elections in Georgia the Georgian Dream party emerged the winner. Its leader, multi-millionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, hopes to take the prime minister’s seat. President Mikhail Saakashvili-led former ruling party United National Movement is in the Opposition.

After Tuesday’s meeting with Saakashvili Ivanishvili told the media that his views on the country’s further rapprochement with NATO and the European Union were identical to those of the current president. “European and Euro-Atlantic integration is our strategy,” he said. Also, he added that after sometime Georgia would certainly become a member of NATO.

It is unclear whether the theme of relations with Russia was touched upon. During Saakahsvili’s rule those relations plunged to a record-low. However, for a number of objective reasons Georgia is interested in the normalization of relations and the restoration of diplomatic relations with its great northern neighbor. Georgia, according to the 2010 census, has a population of four million, and the Georgian community in Russia is 157,800 (according to unofficial estimates, 400,000). Some say the Georgian diaspora in Russia is as big as one million. Besides, Georgia’s export, first and foremost, that of farm produce, was mostly Russia-bound up to the very moment of the severing of relations.

Georgia’s foreign policy will remain unchanged and the country will go ahead with its integration with the European and Euro-Atlantic structures, but at the same time it will start restoring relations with Russia, a likely candidate for the position of foreign minister, Maya Panjikidze, said on Monday. “Georgia’s foreign vector will remain the same. The European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia is the choice of the Georgian people. The United States will be our main partner and these relations are to grow still deeper. But we should not forget about our neighbors, both near and far-away ones. We must restart relations with Russia. Although we shall be unable to resolve the problems in these relations overnight,” Panjakidze said.

She pointed out that “the restoration of territorial integrity is the top priority of Georgia’s foreign and domestic policy.”

Back before the elections Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgia Dream party declared transition to a more pragmatic foreign policy. Ivanishvili earlier said that he was going to restore diplomatic relations with Russia. The first evidence the hard-line policy of Mikhail Saakashvili and his United National Front will be reconsidered came in sight when the candidate for the post of reintegration affairs minister, Paata Zakareishvili, declared amendments to the law On Occupied Territories. The revised version of the law may minimize a variety of sanctions.

The law was adopted after the August war of 2008 and Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that followed. The law officially declared Russia a state that had carried out military occupation of the autonomies. It established a number of restrictions in retaliation.

Paata Zakareishvili is a leading Georgian specialist on conflicts, who has dedicated many years of his life to studying the Abkhazian and South Ossetian problems. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia see him as an acceptable figure for conducting negotiations with. The revised version of the law, he said, would lift the status of a country that occupies Georgian territories, but the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be given the freedom of movement, education and trace in the whole territory of Georgia. He hopes that in the final count this policy will help bring about reunification of the breakaway territories with Georgia.

Also, Zakareishvili made it quite clear that the law contained many unfair clauses and that the new government would be working to promote trade and eliminate restrictions on the movement of people from the “occupied territories” about the whole territory of Georgia.

CIS Studies Institute Deputy Director Vladimir Zharikhin has said he is optimistic about Zakareishvili’s position. “He has pushed into the background the question of the autonomies’ status, which the Georgian leadership invariably brought to the forefront, and which blocked all negotiations,” Zharikhin told Itar-Tass. “Although the Opposition, which has won the parliamentary election, takes the same stance as the previous Georgian authorities, some progress is possible on humanitarian relations, the visa regimen, contacts and trading and economic relations.” The politician believes some improvements in Moscow-Tbilisi relations are possible. “There will be a thaw, but no more than that,” he said.

“Economically Georgia is too economically dependent on the United States and Turkey. For that reason one should not expect an early turn towards Russia, whatever Ivanishvili may be saying,” says political scientist Alexei Mukhin, quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. ‘’But Georgia is really interested in Russia’s market of farm produce.”

“Some changes will take place, because it was Saakashvili that Russia has boycotted all the way,” the Political Technologies Center’s deputy general director, Alexei Makarkin, believes. “It was a fundamental position. Now, the attitude to Ivanishvili is different. It is calmer. However, a great problem remains. Any Georgian government will be unable to drop the principle of recognition of the country’s territorial integrity. Respectively, no Russian government will be able to cancel the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Relations may see a slight warming, but there will be no global rapprochement,” Makarkin said.

MOSCOW, October 10