Prospects of Russian-Georgian relations
Over the past year, scientists from the Center for the Problems of the Caucasus and regional security of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations Nikolai Silaev and Andrei Sushentsov conducted field research in Georgia and in the regions of the Russian North Caucasus. The research resulted in the report "Georgia after the elections and the prospects of the Russian-Georgian relations," the preamble to which was written by the president of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, editor-in-chief of the magazine "Russia in Global Politics" Fyodor Lukyanov.
At the presentation of the report Lukyanov said that “Georgia had not just chosen new authorities, but was seriously aiming at changing a political atmosphere in its relations with Russia, ended, now I think, everyone came to the conclusion it was not a momentary change, but in principle, in fact an attempt to turn that hardly-readable page that had existed until that time, and start a new chapter in relations. It is clear that there are no blank pages, and all that happened between Russia and Georgia, in the past centuries, as well as in the past years and months, will stay with us, but, at least, Moscow and in Tbilisi have the will to stop talking to each other through megaphones and with propaganda statements, and really try to discuss what is really possible and what is not in the world in which Russia and Georgia live ... And I would like to emphasize that much of what happened between the two countries is an cosecant, a derivative of what's going on and happening in the world, because we live in an age where everything is being destroyed, everything is being reviewed, no old rules and dogmas work, and therefore anything is possible, and it can even manifest itself in what is having with us”.
Nikolai Silaev, author of the report, speaking on the prospects of the Russian-Georgian relations, said: “For many years, we have been discussing Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the issue of Georgia's accession to NATO. Obviously, it is hard to find a solution to this problem by wandering in the forest. Also, there is another factor in Russian-Georgian relations, which is that, in general, in Moscow as well as in Tbilisi, people are used to looking at the relations as if through the prism of the conflicts which have already taken place. I am referring to the beginning of the 1990s - Abkhazia and Ossetia - and I am referring to 2008. Moreover, the very rhetoric which was developed in the course of the conflicts is also used to describe the relations between Russia and Georgia in general. It is impossible to isolate the issues of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and NATO from the general context of Russian-Georgian relations, but it is necessary, first of all, that a new context emerges, and secondly, that the rhetoric would if possible be isolated from the general context of the relations”.
Andrey Sushentsov, the second author of the report, senior lecturer in applied analysis of global problems at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, believes that the period of waiting, of strategic waiting is over: “In the first stage it is reasonable to isolate the discussion of humanitarian issues from the political debate about the future of the region as a whole. In principle, the question of the scale and quality of the Russian military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia can be brought up for discussion at some point, but it cannot be a short-term issue.
The lack of negotiations between Georgia, Ossetia and Abkhazia, in fact, since 2006, is objectively detrimental to the long-term interests of Georgia, since meanwhile the status quo gains ground. As long as there is no negotiation process, Georgia essentially indirectly contributes to maintaining such a high-stress situation in the future. A peaceful settlement of conflicts requires Tbilisi to recognize the republics as independent dialogue partners, like they were de facto before August 2008. An important factor in the change of the approach of Tbilisi to this issue would be to repeal the Law on Occupied Territories. First, this law prevents any economic and basically any social, cultural, and transportation links between Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia, and makes humanitarian cooperation with Russia difficult. Secondly, the re-establishment of social and economic relations between the parties would be possible
through the establishment of a common space for the flow of people, capital and services between Georgia, Russia, Ossetia and Abkhazia, in which Russia will be to play a central, key role. If such a space would be organized, it would ease the tension that exists between the countries.
Regarding the initiative of the resumption of rail traffic through Abkhazia, despite the fact that this issue, which was put on the agenda some time some time ago and was almost immediately taken off the agenda, it seems to us that in spite of these difficulties and difficulties which are going to arise, the implementation of this project would give a positive impulse to many processes in the South Caucasus, which would be beneficial not only to one country but to a whole range of countries. Overall, we would
consider this project to be a positive one.
Concerning the so-called "new" North Caucasian policy of Georgia, which brought some inconveniences to Russia while it was implemented, Sushentsov said: “First, the recognition of the Circassian genocide by the Georgian Parliament is seen in Russia as a very unfriendly act, and we hope that Tbilisi understands this. Besides being a symbolic gesture, such a policy makes the attitude of Georgia to the terrorist militant groups in the Russian North Caucasus unclear. As long as this issue stands and Georgia does not give a definitive explanation, it will be a major stumbling block in the development of bilateral relations. An unambiguous and clear-cut reaction at the level of rhetoric, as well as at the level of actions is required to ensure the progress of relations. We believe that there is no obstacle for the new Georgian government to distance itself from supporting the terrorist underground resistance in the North Caucasus. There are conditions for the development of a program of contacts by Moscow and Tbilisi and for the organization of a system of` exchange of information on the situation, at least in the eastern part of the joint border.
Tbilisi understands that destabilization of the situation in the Northern Caucasus of Russia threatens to destabilize the territory of Georgia, because the population of the Northern Caucasian republics of Russia is much larger than the population of Georgia. Economic and humanitarian links between Georgia and the North Caucasian regions would have had a great impact and in fact still can have a significant impact if they are not going to be established by-passing Moscow and the official authorities of Russia, but in cooperation with them. And Russia is also interested in that”.
According to the authors of the report, there is an objective, long-overdue need for the organization of a framework for regional cooperation involving the intellectual elites of Georgia and Russia, civil society activists and journalists. This process would allow the parties to objectively reflect upon the processes and prevent a situation in which intellectuals on both sides of the border would have to remain in isolation and would make their conclusions based purely on prejudices and false information.
The third bloc of issues was “NATO and regional security, the prospects for the Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia and their impact on regional security”. “We do not dare to give any significant long-term analytical forecast on the advantages of the process for Georgia”, Sushentsov says. “We state only that, first of all, Russia as such does not prevent or thinks it has no right to indicate to Georgia who it must associate itself with. But it is foremost important for Moscow that if it is going to be a pro-European or pro-Western choice of Georgia, it would not automatically become anti-Russian. Sweeping judgements that one should be either with them or with us are still very popular in the expert community of Georgia. This radicalism is certainly unhealthy. It is quite possible to combine one with the other, Russia itself actually follows this direction. Therefore, we would like the Georgian expert community to receive this signal.
Furthermore, even if this choice was made in favor of the West, we would like it not to automatically cause the expansion of NATO's military presence on the borderline between Russia and Georgia. The main thing we would like to communicate and what we would like to encourage Tbilisi to do is to ensure that it does not interfere with or block the discussion, at least in the expert community, on other mechanisms of security than NATO. We believe that Russia and Georgia, being neighbors and countries united by a common history and common security concerns originating from the South, are able to develop a common security model in the process. Bidding on the weakening of Russia, as the previous UNM government did in implementing its policies, particularly in the Euro-Atlantic direction, cause a situation in which the results of this process were essentially beyond the influence of Tbilisi. That is, in fact, they cannot make the influence of our country smaller or larger.
We would like to encourage the Georgian government to consider economic cooperation with Russia based on a model which is accepted today by the business elites of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in cooperation with Russia. Already today we observe, allow the possibility and even see the gradual opening of the Russian market for goods made by Georgian companies. This process will develop. Perhaps it will not be undulating, but conditional, closely related to the compliance of Georgian producers with the requirements of the controlling Russian authorities. It is related to nuances: there is no system of certification of agricultural products in Georgia, it was developed only in a few industries, and it is an inconvenience for all export transactions - not only for Russia, but also for the EU countries. However, given that this process has been launched, Moscow expects that along the intensification of these contacts the Georgian government will make efforts to establish bilateral relations. That is, the political track in this regard will be quite closely connected to the economic track. To accelerate the economic process the Georgian side will have to appoint an authorized entity, which will be ready to conduct all stages of the negotiations. I am talking about an association of producers or entrepreneurs, which means that the post of a special representative of the Prime Minister on Russia is not enough, because this official aims to resolve political issues. This topic will become especially relevant in connection with the preparation for the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, and we expect that the Georgian business and political elites will realize the advantage of participating in joint infrastructure and tourist projects as well”.