Road to the Kremlin – will trips to Moscow lead us to united Georgia?
17/03/2010 11:50
Simon Kiladze
"Experts' Club"

Recently visits of representatives of the Georgian opposition have extremely intensified. Zurab Nogaideli, Nino Burjanadze, Koba Davitashvili, Zviad Dzidziguri etc. are going or preparing to go on a visit to Moscow one after another.

If we take into consideration that every contact between countries that went through a war and that do not have diplomatic relations is of great importance, it should not be surprising that every visit arouses quite important response. Maybe such reaction is exaggerated sometimes but it is more like PR than a reality. But it is a fact that this situation is interesting both for Georgians and foreign politicians and experts.

Against the background of opposition's Moscow trips the most prominent one among them is a visit of ex-chairman of the Georgian Parliament Nino Burjanadze. It's a fact that Burjanadze who served as acting President twice and has been the second person in Georgia according to the Constitution of Georgia and therefore is more well-known to foreign politicians and international bodies than, say, Zurab Nogaideli and suchlike. Accordingly, we should suppose that the visit of the former chairman of the Parliament was more important for Moscow.

It should be said from the start that our goal here is not to debate over whether it was necessary to go to Russia and conduct a dialogue with the enemy or, as some Georgian politicians say, how "moral" it is to talk with "occupant" without calling them names. Indeed we do not intend to make digs at those representatives of the opposition that go to Russia. We understand that during a dialogue with a leader of a foreign country, even if he is our rival it is unacceptable to call him names but one thing interests me very much. Will such contacts contribute to restoration of territorial integrity of Georgia or even partially at the first stage? Is there such hope? Maybe we are indulging in illusions. Do we need to walk on the road that might not lead us to the temple?

Moscow visit of Nino Burjanadze was followed by her numerous interviews that were published these days in Georgian and foreign media. Conversations of the former chairman of the Parliament are interesting in themselves as we only have information about small, beginning part of her conversation with Putin i.e. the part that was officially published on the website of the Russian Prime Minister. But there is another thing. If we do not have a full transcript of this very important conversation it would be very difficult to just believe statement of Burjanadze. But we also understand that often such conversations are confidential and they are not disclosed.

In short, the only thing left is to read publicly available sources and analyze some of their parts.

The main postulate of the results of the conversation that was especially underlined by Nino Burjanadze is that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (VVP) said that "life goes on... I greatly hope that if we rely on those who want normal relations with Russia we will be able to restore the level of our relations before the crisis".

Let us pay attention to words of "VVP" "we will be able to restore the level of our relations before the crisis". A notion of "before the crisis level" is understood by us, the Georgian side, as restoration of the status-quo, in other words, that was before August 2008 i.e. withdrawal of recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway regions of Georgia.

How likely it is to realize a statement of Putin? This question is especially acute against the background when Russian tandem of Medvedecv-Putin, as well as their foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been until recently repeating that restoration of Russian-Georgian relations should only happen taking into consideration today's reality i.e. without Abkhazia and "South Ossetia".

Let's try and answer a question that is on the mind of every Georgian. Will Russian president cancel his resolutions 1260 and 1261 of August 26th 2008 on recognition of republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign and independent states? And in general, how such issues are being decided in international relations?

We should start that precedents of annulment (withdrawal) of recognition of independence of a certain state by another state is very rare in the history of international diplomacy. In the course of the last one hundred years (or in conditions of modern international legal norms) such case only happened with regards to the Soviet Union, Germany and Yugoslavia. But attention should be paid to the fact that annulment of recognition of independence certain specifics were applied in the mentioned cases. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia as units of international law disappeared (collapsed) and Germany united.

There is also another precedent in the international law that is expressed in relationships between separatist governments and small states. For example, with regards to Taiwan. Separatist government of Taiwan – a part of China is recognized by around twenty countries of Africa, Asia and Americas. The number is inconsistent and it fluctuates. That's because diplomacy is intertwined with money here. If China offers more money to those who recognizes Taiwan's independence the latters are withdrawing their recognition and vice versa. In modern European history only one country did this - in 1999 Macedonia recognized Taiwan's independence for a very large amount of money but later in 2001 it withdrew the recognition as China offered it even bigger sum...

But there is one very important difference. Russia is not Macedonia or Nicaragua, or Nauru and Phiji for that matter. As we have said above the Kremlin announced many times that the recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a done deal and it is not going to take its word back. Indeed, will Russia – this nuclear state - say "Sorry, Georgians, our mistake, we were a bit worried. But sorry and we will resolve this problem and take the recognition back". They will not say this as Russians will consider this as an act undermining their authority and ruining their reputation.

So taking the above in the account one cannot imagine the better political situation that would support Georgia. And still taking a perspective into consideration what should we hope for? What could be hypothetical conditions in which Russia could take back its word even if government is changed in Georgia?

So here are all pros and cons:

a) Kosovo factor. Russia can announce the minute you annul the independence of Kosovo the same minute we will withdraw recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Despite the fact that some western politicians think that there is a difference between statuses of Kosovo and Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" but will the west agree to annulment of Kosovo independence? They will not agree to this. Accordingly, international pressure has not been successful until now and it will not be in the future either. Moscow will not agree to status quo. A principle is unshaken– "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ".
b) Democratic and economically developed Georgia as an attractive state for separatists. There is a view that if Georgia to become a truly democratic state and if it quickly reaches a high level of economic development and will be among the developed countries of the world then Abkhazians and Ossetians would not even look towards Russia and they will start to integrate with Tbilisi with a purpose of better life. At the first glance it is a very logical opinion. But Moscow will not ignore such tendency, will it? The Kremlin also can make big investments in separate regions like Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" (and it is doing so). Coming from political perspective, it can set additional, significant quotas for Abkhazians and Ossetians or in other words, to make level of wellbeing of the population higher. We cannot rule out that Russia might take from its own citizens and, in order to revenge on Georgia, give it to small Abkhazia. We have seen this many times. So this cannot be used as an argument. Voluntary reintegration of Abkhazians into Georgia even on the basis of federation or confederation is less likely.
c) Partial restoration of territorial integrity. This view has quite firm basis. At least, it is possible that the Kremlin might indeed refuse to support "South Ossetia" as it is a fact that, in the Moscow's view, Abkhazia has more arguments and conditions for independent existence than Tskhinvali separatists. These arguments are: certain traditions of Abkhazian statehood; relatively well-developed economy that is expressed in existence of Tourism infrastructure as well as transport communications (sea ports, airports and railway). Moscow has difficulties with establishing deeper relations with "South Ossetia" as the only road that connects Russia with "South Ossetia" – Transcaucasian highway - is very unstable and insufficient. And though they first decided to build an airport later they changed their mind. There is such corruption in "South Ossetia" that pockets of Tskhinvali regime looks like a "black hole" where funds allotted by Russia are disappearing. In short, "South Ossetia" is a burden for Russia which is not very pleasant of Russia to carry.

Taking into account all the above we can make the following conclusions:

Russia under no circumstances, either under pressure from International community or voluntarily, will agree to withdraw recognition of independence of Abkhazia because of its convenient geopolitical situation and wonderful climate conditions. At that, Russia can agree to return a small part of Abkhazia - Dali (Kodori) gorge. The Kremlin can convince Abkhazian and Ossetian separatist leaders that they should compromise and make sacrifices in order to retain independence. I think that it can be more or less acceptable for Russia to return the entire "South Ossetia" or part of it i.e. the Akhalgori district to Georgia.

Such steps will be expression of "nobility" of the Kremlin and its "whitewashing" in the eyes of the world. Probably this is what Putin meant by "restoration of pre-crisis level of relations".

So if the situation develops according to this scenario then contacts with Russia really have a point in order to prepare ground and make it stable. Generally, history of diplomacy is full of paradoxes and it cannot be ruled out that after some time situation might change in favour of Georgia. And we should constantly try and protect our interests using all possible leverage even with an enemy and occupant.

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