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Georgia, Russia may mend trading, cultural relations soon - Ivanishvili

October 25, 2012, 15:57 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Trading and cultural relations between Georgia and Russia may be restored soon, the candidate for the prime-minister’s post in Georgia, leader of the Georgian Dream coalition, which emerged the winner in the recent parliamentary election, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has said. An improvement of relations with Russia was one of his election pledges. The Georgian politician acknowledged that at this point he had no idea of how to go about this business, but he strongly hopes the situation may be straightened out soon. He said the previous authorities had brought Georgia to a dead end.

In the meantime, experts believe that although trading relations between the two countries may improve, the question of the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – doomed to remain a great controversy between Russia and Georgia under any leaders - will make the normalization of bilateral political relations very questionable.

On Wednesday, Ivanishvili took part in a session of the parliamentary minority (former ruling party United National Movement) to make a statement the Georgian politicians found truly sensational. He accused President Mikhail Saakashvili and his backers in the UNM (now the parliamentary opposition) of starting the war in South Ossetia in 2008.

“The 2008 war was a great provocation, which had been planned by your commander-in-chief and you,” Ivanishvili told his political opponents. Georgia’s future prime minister believes that Mikhail Saakashvili’s responsibility for starting combat operations is beyond doubt: “A clear indication of that is found in the Tagliavini statement (Heidi Tagliavini – a Swiss diplomat, head of the international probe into the causes of the Georgian-Russian conflict). Both the Americans and the Europeans have recognized that. All that could have been avoided, had we had a normal leadership.”

In fairness, one must say that Ivanishvili was very critical of Moscow, too. In fact, he accused Russia of imperial ambitions. “For many centuries Russia had tried to get over the Caucasus Mountain Range, and Saakashvili has finally helped it see the dream come true.”

The leader of Georgian Dream agreed with his critics’ statements that Russia had been making preparations for a military invasion of Georgia for the past several years. “Your leader and his provocations provided Russia with an excuse for implementing its long-hatched plans, and the occupation of some of our territories is a reality that we have now,” Ivanishvili said.

As a result of the five-day war in August 2008 Russia recognized the independence of Georgia’s former autonomies – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and promised to furnish diplomatic and financial support. Tbilisi declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories and severed diplomatic relations with Russia. The Russian authorities replied Georgia was the first to have started hostilities, while Russia was forced to begin its “peace-making operation” in response to aggression to protect its citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

“I cannot promise relations with Russia will get better today or tomorrow. We have no concrete plans as to when this may happen, but with our correct actions, right behavior and proper diplomacy we may soon get our territories back, if our interests coincide with Russia’s interests, or if there occur some global processes,” Ivanishvili said.

He does not have too much time on his hands, though. Ivanishvili has declared he has no intention of staying in politics for too long. In about eighteen months he may quit his post to join public activity. In his opinion, this is necessary to let Georgian society develop the knack of controlling the authorities.

Ivanishvili believes that “in the near future it might be possible to restart trading relations with Russia.”

“This is in the interests of both countries, and I believe that a very realistic opportunity for this existed already when Georgia put its signature to the WTO agreement with Russia, but you (former authorities) lacked the political will then,” he said. Ivanishvili believes that the cancellation of the embargo is quite possible. “I feel and analyze the situation, and I do see that reality. I am unable to name a specific date, but I am certain that in the near future trading and cultural relations between Georgia and Russia will be restored,” he said.

The trade embargo that Russia introduced back in 2006, which the Georgians regarded as politically motivated, dealt a powerful blow on Georgian farming, which has been unable to recover from it to this day.

Analysts believe that trading relations with Moscow under Ivanishvili may get back to normal. But nothing else can be expected.

With Ivanishvili’s rise to the prime-minister’s seat trading relations between Georgia and Russia can get better, but nothing of the kind is likely to happen in politics, expert Jana Kobzova, of the European Council on International Relations, told the news agency REGNUM.

“For instance, the ban on the export of Georgian wines to Russia may be canceled. The two countries may restore direct air links, but nothing more than that,” Kobzova believes.

She sees no chances for any other major shifts in Russian-Georgian relations as a result of a dialogue with Ivanishvili. “To mend relations with Russia Ivanishvili will have to settle the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia first. Moscow sees a solution in Georgia’s recognition of the independence of Tskhinval and Sukhum, which Ivanishvili will certainly never agree to do,” Kobzova said, adding that when it came to foreign policy issues, Georgia’s current and future authorities saw eye to eye.

Ivanishvili’s victory has already raised hope for better relations with Russia, political scientist Sergei Markedonov says on the website. He is curious, though, how realistic the hope is. Russia and Georgia have a fundamental contradiction dividing them – Georgia’s political class is united on the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Marekedonov said. The Georgian Dream coalition – the election winner – has come out with the slogan Anything but Recognition. In the meantime, Moscow is unprepared for a discussion over the status of Georgia’s two former autonomies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a very unequivocal statement on that score just recently.

“There are two parallel political and legal realities. One is “territorially integral Georgia,” enjoying the backing of the United States and its allies. On the other hand, there are three independent states – Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And finding a point where these two conflicting pictures of the southern Caucasus may overlap is a daunting task even for a diplomat of genius.”

MOSCOW, October 25