Will Moscow and Tbilisi shake hands?02.11.2012 | 14:16
A new position - special representative for relations with Russia - was established under the government of Georgia. The work of the special representative includes establishing contacts in the field of economy, culture, and security in the North Caucasus - a strategically important region both for Russia and Georgia. Zurab Abashidze - former Georgian Ambassador to the Russian Federation and former Georgia's representative in NATO - was appointed this position. What should the two countries expect from this? GTimes has talked to the experts from Russia and Georgia on this occasion.
Andrei Areshev, expert of the Center for Central Asia and Caucasus of the Institute of Oriental Studies.
"I think that the new Georgian leadership will reconsider sad legacy Saakashvili in terms of Russian-Georgian relations. Georgia's needs, especially economic, dictate the necessity to revise the Georgian strategy towards Russia. I would therefore drew attention to the recent statement by the Minister of Energy of Georgia Kakha Kaladze about the need to resume the import of Russian power in the winter 2012-2013, since this is a pressing need in Georgia. In this context, the appointment of Zurab Abashidze the responsible for the Russian direction of the Georgian policy is a very serious step. This step is more serious than the duty apologies of Mrs. Panjikidze saying that "Georgia will not restore diplomatic relations with Russia as long as Moscow has embassies in Sukhum and Tskhinval".
Abashidze is a very experienced diplomat. He was the ambassador of Georgia to the Russian Federation, the representative of Georgia in NATO; he has carried out a number of other diplomatic missions. Zurab Abashidze has a very difficult task. Progress in relations will be possible only in the case of the strong Tbilisi's refusal from achieving unrealistic goals. In particular, if Georgia continues linking the overall range of Russian-Georgian relations with the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there's no progress. Russia solved this issue four years ago on the basis of a response to the aggression of the then Georgian regime, which is now in the past.
If the Georgian side gives up military rhetoric and the desire to destabilize the North Caucasus, there is progress. The first steps for this are the public statements by Bidzina Ivanishvili and two other members of his team in relation of the Sochi Olympics. They stated that the Georgian athletes would not boycott the Olympics in 2014. This statement implies a substantial revision of the previous Georgian policy in the North Caucasus, which was destructive for Russia.
In practice, Georgia's actions in the region were often armed provocations, for example, the August events in Telavi district. Telavi has shown that Saakashvili had decided to delay his leaving through armed provocation, during which citizens of Georgia were killed.
We hope the appointment of Zurab Abashidze the special representative for Russia - this is a sign, if not of a rapprochement between Russia and Georgia, but at least of warming in the relationships. First of all Tbilisi needs this. As for Georgia's integration into NATO and the EU, the experience of Mr. Abashidze is most useful than ever. Abashidze is perfectly aware of the situation and is able to skillfully adjust the direction of diplomatic actions, especially now when the issue of Georgia's accession into NATO is not as sharp as it was under Saakashvili. Immediate Georgia's accession into NATO is also disadvantageous for Brussels since this would raise the issue of the territorial integrity of Georgia. If such a question arises, NATO de facto appears in the state of war with Russia. Given the current problems of the "big West", the confrontation of the West and Russia is unlikely to happen, especially since today's Georgia is unlikely to seek for a confrontation with Russia".
Tengiz Pkhaladze, chairman of the Georgian Centre for Geopolitical Studies.
"Zurab Abashidze is a very experienced diplomat who has worked with both Russia and NATO. Many times he proved his ability to settle complex diplomatic issues. Through the appointment of Zurab Abashidze Georgia has reiterated its commitment to a reasonable dialogue with the Russian Federation in the negotiation format.
This is Georgia's confirmation of the longstanding desire to have good relations with Russia. Georgia itself is waiting for changes from the Russian Federation. Not Russian territory is occupied, but Georgian, and Russia is the occupier, not Georgia. Therefore, if Russia is ready to the negotiations with Georgia to discuss these essential questions, this is very good.
Tbilisi has repeatedly stressed desire to have good neighborly relations with Moscow, which is why Zurab Abashidze was selected as the special representative for relations with Russia. But if Moscow agrees only for one-sided, that is the Georgian desire to normalize relations, the efforts do not succeed. Moscow is still openly speaking about the so-called independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and opens its embassies there. In this case we cannot speak about restoring Russian-Georgian diplomatic relations".