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“A reset” in the Georgian way16.04.2009 | 10:25
The civil disobedience declared by the Georgian opposition is more and more reminiscent of a nautical calm rather than the promised storm. The radical opposition is currently rejecting any compromises. But the authorities are showing a willingness to make concessions as long as there is no mention of the president's resignation. On the first few days of the protest actions, the opposition declared its willingness to enter into dialogue with Russia. On the sixth day of the confrontation, Saakashvili made the same statement. Admittedly, with some provisos.
On 14th April, as RIA Novosti reports, Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili declared: "Our task for preparing a genuine dialogue with Russia is to strengthen our international position, to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic institutions and strengthen our economy. Russia must be convinced that it is impossible to destabilize the situation in Georgia both inside and outside the country. And this will be a firm guarantee for starting a real dialogue aimed at overcoming this misfortune, which has befallen our relations and which results from the occupation of part of our territory."
But then again, in the stormy five years of Saakashvili's rule, there is nothing he hasn't said regarding Russia. A suggestion was made to start relations with a clean slate, which was followed by a political frost. Even after the August war, Saakashvili made numerous contradictory declarations. "We don't want Russian tanks, but we are extending our hand to Russian businessmen. Our doors and our hearts have always been open to Russian investment and Russian tourists," said Saakashvili, who now doesn't refer to Russia as anything but an "occupier" and "aggressor".
Russia does not hide its hostility towards Mikheil Saakashvili. However, irrespective of the emotional tendencies of politicians, Russia and Georgia were, are and will be neighbours, and sooner or later they will have build up respectful relations with each other.
Meanwhile, in Georgia people have started talking about the war again on their favourite wave of anti-Russian rhetoric. Initially, people in Georgia were scaring the population with talk of the strengthened military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the tense domestic situation in the country. Then they wanted to frighten people by mentioning the Russian ships which were allegedly heading for Georgia's shores. But this week Mikheil Saakashvili gave assurances that no war was being planned. As Civil.ge reports, Saakashvili said that today within Georgia "and beyond", the concentration of Russian troops exceeds the number that was there in August, but it is not now the case "that Russia is genuinely resuming any large-scale military escapade".
Saakashvili argues that there will not be a war because "all this (the strengthening of a military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia - I.P.) was intended to deal with internal unrest, but Georgia has shown stability, and on the other hand we now enjoy far greater international support than we had last August." In the best traditions of smear campaigns, Saakashvili has tried to kill birds in one speech - both to demonstrate support for the West on the back of the domestic crisis, and kick his northern neighbour once more.
American experts have their own view of the situation in the South Caucasus. President Mikheil Saakashvili will not be successful in carrying out possible plans to resume an armed conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia to divert the public's attention away from the domestic problems in the country, said a leading American expert on Georgia, associate-professor at Columbia University Lincoln Mitchell. In his opinion, so RIA Novosti reports, the danger of a resumption of hostilities in the Caucasus has reduced significantly, but still remains a possibility. At the same time Mitchell remarked that "relations between Georgia and Russia are currently such that each of them is thinking hard about how to upset the other", hence "any type of provocation" could be enough to start a conflict. If that is the case, said the expert, "if Russian troops occupy a few more kilometres inside Georgian territory", then "Saakashvili's comments regarding Russian aggression would be viewed in the West as indisputable". Lincoln Mitchell thinks that such a development would threaten the restoration of good relations between Russia and the USA.
But then again, Russia and the USA are in the process of "resetting" their relations. Mikheil Nikolaevich is not hiding his disappointment at this. In an interview with Newsweek this week, Saakashvili complained that the coming to power of Barack Obama and his pragmatic policies "could spoil the America that I know", Bush's America in which "idealism got the upper hand over pragmatism". But pragmatism, as we know, is the only viable way of running politics. And pragmatism would dictate that Russia and Georgia don't need another confrontation, but at the very least a normalization of relations. Considering the new spirit on the international political stage, we might not have long to wait before a "resetting" of Georgian-Russian relations. At least both Saakashvili and his opponents, who would like to officially approve the occupant of the presidential seat, are increasingly insistently demanding a "reset" of relations with Russia. Admittedly, for the moment with an eye on their Transatlantic friends.