Prospects of Russian-Georgian relations: hypothetical scenarios
02/11/2010 15:06
Simon Kiladze

Disagreement is evident in the ruling tandem of Russia. The closer the presidential election of 2012, the more distinct becomes political transformation of the President. His "I" became more pronounced in his actions. Dmitry Medvedev, once docile to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is gradually showing his, until recently hidden, temper and seems to be coming out from under the influence the boss. Though it is still a long way to 2012, but it is obvious that the formula "president-prime minister-president", devised by Putin during the elections in March 2008, is already crumbling.

"Rivalry between inhabitants of the Kremlin and the White House (the building of the Russian government) has been going on for a long time. Some say that differences that started between Medvedev and Putin back in 2009 and that became evident during the solution of certain personnel matters, has even further deepened in 2010. An issue of Khimki forest that is located near Moscow (Putin supported cutting down of the forest because of construction of a highway, while Dmitry Medvedev stopped it) and Yuri Luzhkov's removal from the post of the Mayor of Moscow confirmed existence of disagreement.

Medvedev-Putin: liberal vs. conservative?

As Russian and Western political analysts note Dmitry Medvedev can be conventionally regarded as the leader of the liberal wing of the ruling elite in modern Russia, while Putin is the most influential figure in extreme conservatives.

Vladimir Putin, as it is inherent in a man whose worldview was formed during work in the Soviet era security services (KGB), is a person of "hard, ruthless and stern" nature. And we can say that formation of a relatively liberal outlook of Dmitry Medvedev and his perception of events was due to his involvement in the civil service to a significant degree.

Of course, such "classification" of the leaders of Russia may be debatable, but, as we said above, it is obvious that American or European vectors of the foreign policy of Prime Minister and the President are still quite different. It would suffice just to recall Vladimir Putin's speech that he made at the Munich security conference that almost shocked Europeans, or how the Russian-US relations deteriorated during his presidency (despite the fact that George W. Bush "looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul "), while Medvedev and Obama began a well-known process of "reset" and in Europe and America began to talk about friendly and business partnership with Russia.

At the same time it is also obvious that the west still looks at the Russian bear with a certain degree of timidity and fear. The world is well aware of different tones of Russia's imperial policy, when estrangement is followed by rapprochement and periods of warming are replaced by periods of freeze with its heavy results for almost the entire world. Such recurrences are many ranging from the XIX century to the present day and it remained unchanged during the monarchy, the communist period and at the time of "liberal-democratic Russia" of 1990s.

In its turn, attitude of the west towards Russia, too, is not completely homogenous. It has different approaches. Leading states of continental Europe are more loyal to the Kremlin than the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Out of the factors determining this situation two are most important. Firstly it is that Russia has historical political-economic and cultural ties with "old" states of continental Europe that is often expressed in a strategic partnership. And secondly, Germany, France and other developed countries of Europe are still basically "dependent" on Russian oil and gas and Russia's economy is largely integrated with theirs.

This difference in approach to Russia to some extent weakens efforts of the Western "democratic front" directed at democratization of Moscow, and if we add to this loyalty of the well-known policy of "reset", it becomes clear why strictness of Berlin-Paris and Brussels-Strasbourg is quite often only illusory and it is mainly expressed in "concern and indignation". And Russia uses it and directs its anger against unruly and stubborn countries of "the near abroad".

In the period of Russian anti-Georgian hysteria it can be noticed that the policy of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev towards Georgia is more or less distinct in tone and style in some respects. Dmitry Medvedev relatively rarely makes offensive statements against Georgia. Today his political vocabulary is more civilized than in the early period of his presidency, while permanent politically incorrect remarks of Putin are well known.

Sceptics may argue that in the context of Russian imperial occupation policy it is of no great importance whether Russia's leaders refer to Georgia with a soft tone or strict one. The bottom line is that the anti-Georgian vector of the Kremlin has remained unchanged.

And still, how far can attitude of the northern neighbour change towards Georgia, given ongoing domestic political processes in Russia? To be more precise, how will relations between Russia and Georgia develop if "liberal" Dmitry Medvedev continues to restrain "conservative and rigid" Vladimir Putin and after that manages to remove him from politics?

Although today it is difficult to predict as no one knows what will happen and what Putin will do against Medvedev or vice versa. But, let's give our imagination free reign and imagine a kind of simplified hypothetical scenario with optimistic and pessimistic aspects.

Optimistic scenario:
Compromises of Russia with Georgia

Let's imagine that Dmitry Medvedev have overcome Vladimir Putin's resistance and forced him to gradually retreat into the background; entourage of the Prime Minister is more or less neutralized; central and regional ruling elite is staffed with staunch supporters of the President; the campaign in support of the President intensifies in the media; law enforcement bodies and Putin's kindred security services are now subordinated to the president not just formally but actually as well. The moment of truth comes – by the decision of Medvedev Vladimir Putin is dismissed. The President has full freedom of action.

The period of real political growth and gain of Medvedev coincides with the pre-election period in the country. Democratic processes are becoming decidedly more active in Russia. Reforms are deepening. The West supports the political course of Medvedev while requests the Kremlin to solve problems of international and regional security, including those regarding Georgia.

Probably, a question related to Georgia will be one of the most important in the new Kremlin policy, although very difficult one to address. There is no solid foundation and a clear background for Medvedev to concede anything with regards to Georgia, but there is a possibility for the political situation to change. Slight, but definite signs of this can be seen on the horizon.

It is true that under the constitution of Russia the attack on Georgia and deployment of military occupation troops of Russia on its territory happened exactly by the orders of the President - Dmitry Medvedev personally. But at the same time, during public performances he consistently stressed that "it was a forced decision". The same thing he says about the recognition of so-called independence of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia". Who compelled Dmitry Medvedev to go against his will? We should recall that by August 2008 presidential experience of Medvedev was only some three months and he depended on Vladimir Putin, who at the time, we may say, was the de facto ruler of Russia.

With what will Dmitry Medvedev start?

We should keep in mind that it's difficult for the president to take back what has been publicly said once, all the more for the leader of such an ambitious country as Russia. This requires some time and appropriate timing.

Since the primary and main goals for Georgia are:
a) withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories;
b) establishing control of the Georgian-Russian state border;
d) restoration of territorial integrity
we should assume that Medvedev will try to take certain steps in these very directions.

The process of rapprochement between Georgia and Russia is possible in two stages. At the first stage, I think, a significant role with this regard can be played by a factor of future membership of Russia in the World Trade Organization (WTO). it is possible that at the first stage of de-occupation and under certain pressure from the U.S. (or on the basis of political deal) the Kremlin would agree to demands of Tbilisi and for a start symbolically allow Georgian customs officers at the checkpoint of Rocky-Nizhny Zaramag (if not Georgians, at least representatives of international organizations acting on behalf of Georgia. Similar facts have happened before in the conflict regions of the world). It might seem fantastic now, but we should not forget that principle agreement on joint checkpoints on the border between Georgia and Russia was reached back in February 2008. In addition, Washington is making such strong and reassuring statements about Russia becoming a WTO member in just one year that suggestion about existence of a deal involuntarily comes to mind.

The second stage will probably begin in 2012 if Dmitry Medvedev once again is elected a president. Russia is actively pursuing integration with the west, at the same time it reduces its contingent of occupation troops in the breakaway regions of Georgia, convinces Sukhumi and Tskhinvali of necessity to pursue such policy. While Tbilisi, in turn, through mediation of international organizations and taking into account new political realities, begins to work on the format of territorial arrangement of Georgia, strengthening of mechanisms of security and mutual trust. The west and Russia jointly give Georgia financial aid, much of which goes to Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" under international control.

Eastern European states that were quite hostile towards Moscow support efforts of Medvedev; problems that used to arise between them in previous years are reduced dramatically; hard pro-Serbian course of Russian diplomacy In the Balkans is neutralized as Serbia itself is already integrated in the EU. Against this background when Belgrade and Moscow are actually "are already on the NATO orbit" pursuance of old policy loses its meaning, respectively, Russia recognizes independence of Kosovo. Thus, it practically agrees with the political course of the west.

Recognition of Kosovo which means rejection of old politics naturally leads to possibility to revise and adjust relations with Abkhazia and "South Ossetia", but what about "prodigal sons" of Georgia independence of which Russia has already been recognized?

This is a very problematic issue.

Of course, independence of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" was artificial and granted by the Kremlin. And the recognition of their sovereignty has been largely caused only to annoy the west (because of Kosovo). Of course, both regions of Georgia are occupied by Russia. it is also clear that the Sukhumi and Tskhinvali authorities are separatist, though there are also differences between them. "South Ossetia" which in reality is part of the Shida Kartli region, is in a completely different situation than Abkhazia. "South Ossetia" is absolutely groundless and artificial entity without a future that cannot exist independently.

Dmitry Medvedev knows well possibilities of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia". He had been in both Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. He knows that Tskhinvali is a kind of "black hole" where billions of Russian rubles intended for the public disappear without a trace (or rather accumulate in the pockets of the Eduard Kokoity regime). "South Ossetia" for Russia is a "stone of Sisyphus" which it slung on its back and Russia drags it i.e. it is altogether unprofitable and disadvantageous - both economically and politically.

Thus, according to the optimistic scenario, we can assume that Russia, first of all, will free itself of the heavy ballast. After years liberal democrat President admits a mistake, overcomes false pride, checks his ambitions and cancels his decree recognizing the independence of "South Ossetia". We have already mentioned above that recognition of one's mistakes is quite a difficult task for a president. But quite often happens that the recognition of a wrong step becomes the foundation for future success. As to withdrawal of recognition of independence, its abolition, such precedents though rarely, but still have been in international diplomacy. This happened in twenties, thirties and forties of the last century. The same is happening today with regard to some African or Asian separatist regimes.

(To be continued ...)


In case of using the material the hypperlink on the Expert Club is obligatory