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Georgian-Russian relations: per aspera ad astra

Zurab Abashidze and Grigory Karasin. Photo: sova.news

Karasin-Abashidze joint committee meeting has been held in Prague. To recall, following the victory of Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition bloc in the parliamentary elections in Georgia, the newly-elected bloc faced a task to restore elementary contact with the Russian Federation, since diplomatic relations with Russia were terminated by the previous government of Georgia. The joint committee is headed by Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin and Special Representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for normalization of relations with Russia, experienced diplomat Zurab Abashidze.

Analyzing the Russian-Georgian normalization in 2017, the sides highlighted the growth of commodity turnover of the two states by one-third, to about one billion dollars.

For Georgia it is important to export its products to Russia after failing to resist stiff competition in the international markets.

Abashidze-Karasin meeting: from economy to NATO drills

During the meeting, the sides hailed the sustainable development of transport communication between Georgia and Russia. As passenger traffic grows, additional regular flights are needed.

The Upper Lars – Kazbegi checkpoint is hardly managing the increased passenger flows and freight activity. This circumstance has made the train-ferry between Kavkaz Port, Russia, and Poti Port, Georgia, a popular alternative route. All these positive economic developments are happening despite absence of diplomatic relations of the two states.

One may think that there are no problems in the Georgian-Russian relations, but the sides have just agreed not to put the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on agenda, since these issues shall be discussed within Geneva International Talks.

In addition, there is another factor that mars the bilateral relations of Russia and Georgia – the growing military cooperation of Georgia with U.S. and NATO. Russia is concerned about regular drills in the territory of Georgia and NATO states, training of Georgian officers by foreign trainers, re-equipment of the Georgian army with NATO weapons, including the latest supply of Javelin portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile systems, one of the most advanced and expensive weapons.

“Such policy of Tbilisi coupled with bellicose anti-Russian behavior at international organizations, undermines normalization efforts,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Such arms race in the explosive region of South Caucasus with its smoldering conflicts may shatter the fragile stability and spark bloody armed conflicts.

Failing to implement agreements of 2011

The previous meeting held in November 2017 faced formidable barriers in disputes over terms. The sides dispute about implementation of the Agreement “On basic principles of customs administration mechanism and commodities trade monitoring.”

Moscow proceeds from “new realities in the Transcaucasia” meaning recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whereas Georgia categorically denies these new realities. After the august events of 2008, Russia officially recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whereas the Georgian government still considers these regions an integral part of its territory. The border that Russia calls inter-state, Georgia considers administrative border between its regions.

The Russian wording “customs border of Georgia” is interpreted by Georgia as an inadmissible interpretation of the agreement of 2011. According to the Georgian government, recognition of the customs border will be interpreted as official recognition of separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They say the agreement of 2011 dies not provide for establishment of the so-called customs borders on the administrative border of the former autonomous regions with the remaining territory of Georgia.

In response to these statements of the Georgian delegation, the Russian side referred to the text of the agreement. Grigory Karasin said the agreement on commodity trade monitoring specifies the geographical coordinates of the areas intended for the Georgian customs service – it is Kazbegi region on the border with the Russian Federation, the area in the south of Inguri River – borders with Abkhazia and outskirts of Gori town – the area of the border with South Ossetia. The Russian side said the known disagreements of the sides concerning the political aspects of this international agreement shall not be presented as a problem. “The sides should just implement the Agreement strictly complying with its terms,” the Russian foreign ministry says in a statement.

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Georgian-Russian relations – historical background

For the sake of clarity, it should be recalled that the Russian-Georgia relations have history of several hundred years and have been assessed differently depending on the political situation. Russia’s role has been interpreted in various ways: from senior brother and savior to cunning oppressor. The latter interpretation is popular nowadays, as Georgia’s leadership has to act in harmony with the Western democracies.

In the meantime, history has intertwined the fates of Russia and Georgia yet long ago. Georgian people waged unequal fight for freedom and independence from foreign invaders – representatives of different religions and mentality – and experienced national and religious oppression. The only hopes were with the growing and strengthening young Christian state – Russia.

Due to its political weight and capacities, Russia soon became capable of fighting against Ottoman Turkey and Iran that divided the territory of Georgia under the Amasya Peace Treaty of 1555.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire started gradually uniting the Georgian territories. Starting with Eastern Georgia, in numerous Russian-Turkish and Russian-Persian wars, the Russian Empire consistently united Georgian lands, and the last land was Adjara (united after war of 1877-1878).

The state of the population has improved; there was no longer religious oppression. Georgians and Russians are not just Christian nations; they belong to the same confession – Orthodox. Georgian nobles, even those who could not preserve their documents, were granted the same rights as the Russian noble class had.

In Soviet period, Georgia was one of the most privileged states, where industry and agriculture, resorts and many other structures were established and developed. The living standards in Georgia were higher than in many other Soviet countries.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prosperous country was thrown back. The population was left without savings, jobs, gas and electricity. The ruling elite had nothing to do but blame the northern neighbor Russia.

Despite many years of permanent anti-Russian propaganda, a not large percentage of the Georgian people have been brainwashed. As to the political elite, it is evidently anti-Russian and depends on the West. Unfortunately, in modern world, a country’s policy is waged by the political elite, not the people.

The anti-Russian policy was not strange even to Eduard Shevardnadze, the Kremlin “brought-up” politician, and his protégé, scandalous Mikheil Saakashvili, who overthrew his teacher after the color revolution.

Groundless Russophobia has deprived Saakashvili’s criminal government from public support and ensured victory for Georgian Dream Party in 2012. It is high time for Georgian Dream to fulfill one of its pre-election promises - normalization of relations with Russia. It will not be easy, given the Party’s major goal – European integration of Georgia.

To get a way out of that stalemate, the joint committee of Karasin and Abashidze was set up. The tasks of the committee are very complicate, as Georgia hopes Russia will recall its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Despite this, the committee started restoring economic and cultural ties. The more economic ties and opportunities are for dialogue, the harder it will be for third parties to involve Georgia into a new armed conflict with Russia. That is why any contacts with Russia prompt hysteria of pro-Western opposition in Georgia.

The two peoples have passed a long historical way sharing joy and troubles. It is very symbolical to recall that Yegorov (Russian) and Kantaria (Georgian) raised the Victory Flag over Reichstag. Hopefully, no one will make our peoples war against each other again.

David Kupatadze

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2018/02/20/georgian-russian-relations-per-aspera-ad-astra
Published on February 20th, 2018 08:46 PM
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