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Will Georgia’s looming crisis impair relations with Russia?

February 26, 2015, 17:17 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© TASS/Anatoliy Strunin

MOSCOW, February 26. /TASS/. Georgian National Bank’s president, Georgy Kadagidze, has offered a very brief, two-word comment to describe the current state of affairs in the country: economic shock. Local dailies are brimming with open letters to the country’s informal leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, with reminders of his election pledges and demands for acting on them at last. Georgia’s acute economic crisis keeps adding fuel to the fire of popular discontent over the policy of the ruling coalition Georgian Dream and social tensions. The former ruling party United National Movement under the ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has jumped at the opportunity to mount an offensive against its opponents. The possibility of early parliamentary elections this year is mentioned ever more frequently. So how real is the possibility Mikheil Saakashvili will stage a comeback, and what will happen to Russia-Georgia relations in that case? experts are wondering.

Over the past few days the Georgian national currency, the lari, has slumped by 20%. The prices of foods and essentials have been up more than 10%.

In a situation like this relations between Russia and Georgia have been developing better than under Saakashvili, but they are still way below the level where both sides would like them to be. The status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Tbilisi is reluctant to reconcile with, is the main stumbling block.

The special representative of Georgia’s prime minister for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin are scheduled to meet in Prague later on Thursday. The Abashidze-Karasin format contacts are the first-ever direct dialogue by the two countries’ officials after the 2008 hostilities in South Ossetia.

As he met with participants in the Russian-Georgian Dialogue, an annual project of the A.M. Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Support Fund, several days ago, Karasin said that Russian-Georgian relations showed some constructive changes over the past years. While Saakashvili’s rule can be described as an unequivocally gloomy period, Georgia’s new leadership opted for an alternative, for a dialogue with Russia.

"If Georgian Dream remains in the steep dive, we may soon face a stark reality of ceding power to Saakashvili’s United National Movement. No major third political party exists in the country at the moment. And Saakashvili’s return to power would spell another disaster," the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes the chief of the Caucasus Institute of Regional Security, Alexander Rusetsky, as saying.

Even if the crisis turns from bad to worse and parliamentary elections have to be held this year, the country will see no major change in the line-up of forces. The chances of Saakashvili’s return are very slim, if at all, the chief of the Caucasus department at the CIS Countries Institute, Vladimir Yevseyev, told TASS.

"The Georgian Dream is losing support. It makes promises only to default on them. It does not control the mass media but managed to hold successful local elections to gain support there. In the meantime, the United National Movement has a stable electorate of 20%-25%, which shows no signs of growth.

The odds are the Georgian Dream is slated to win the election, Yevseyev believes. "The United National Movement’s comeback to power is possible, but most probably not this year, and on the condition it has a different leader.

"Saakashvili is hopelessly discredited. His return to the seat of the president or prime minister is highly improbable," he remarked.

The expert points to a very strong anti-US and anti-NATO sentiment.

A breakthrough in Russian-Georgian relations would be possible, if there were an informal meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bidzina Ivanishvili. Georgia will agree to this, if Moscow displays such an intention, Yevseyev said.

Russia’s relations with South Ossetia are an important factor for Russian-Georgian relations. Moscow, he believes, should make a very delicate approach to signing a treaty with that republic to ensure "Russia cannot be accused of annexation."

"Georgia will be able to forgive many things, but certainly not what may look as a takeover of South Ossetia," the analyst said.


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