Russian Analyst: Georgia – a Pariah for Russia

Q&A with Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Moscow Center

Dmitri Trenin, who is the Co-Chair of the Foreign and Security Policy Program and the Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, talked to Civil Georgia on December 17 over the Russo-Georgian relations on the background of recent parliamentary elections in Russia and upcoming presidential elections in Georgia.

He said that current relations between the two countries look like “calm before a storm.” “Russia has two top priorities concerning Georgia: the first – to keep stability in Georgia and the second – Russia wants to see such Georgian leadership, which would take into consideration Moscow’s interests in the region,” he said.

Q: The liberal political forces failed to succeed in December 7 on parliamentary elections in Russia. What would be an impact of the results of the Russian elections on the Russo-Georgian relations?

A: The parties with liberal orientation cannot meet the requirements of a significant part of the population of Russia. Support towards the liberal political forces in Russia has been decreasing from election to election, especially support towards the Yabloko. I would say that time has come for fundamental reorganization of political structures of the Russian right-wing parties. Liberals work well in the government. Russian government’s economy team consists basically of liberals. However, they failed to find a common language with a significant part of the Russian population. And this is their major problem. 

The degree to which the Russian Parliament impacts formation of country’s foreign policy is not substantial. Relations between Georgia and Russia will be mainly determined by the ruling elite of Moscow.

In 2003, the Russian foreign policy interests have retreated towards the limits of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Russia’s foreign policy is mainly focused on the CIS countries now.

At the same time, the CIS countries have recently become in the focus of the Russian economic elite as well. I think that that Russian involvement in this region and particularly in Georgia will further increase in the nearest future.

I think, much will depend on the position of the Georgian authorities. Firstly, it is very important who will become Georgia’s new President after the January 4 elections. I think the contacts between the new leadership of Georgia and the Russian authorities are of vital importance.

Russia has two top priorities concerning Georgia: the first – to keep stability in Georgia and the second – Russia wants the Georgian authorities take into consideration the Russia’s interests.

In particular, the Russian authorities are willing to see such leadership in Tbilisi, which is ready to establish friendly relations with Russia. Georgia’s statements about integration into NATO and withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia are considered in Russia as unfriendly.  You can say that it is interference in Georgia’s internal affairs or attempts to mount pressure, but this is a fact. 

Georgians can imagine, what kind of Russia they would like to see, but it is only a dream. Probably, Russia will not change for a long time and will remain the same as it is now. Thus, Georgian authorities should be realistic.

The worst thing we could see is Georgia turning into a battlefield of the Russian and U.S. interests. This will lead to extremely negative consequences for Georgia itself.

The prospects of balancing the interests of Russia and the United States in Georgia are real and it is up to the Georgia’s leadership to harmonize the relations with Moscow and Washington. 

However, from my point of view regarding further developments, I can compare the current situation in Russo-Georgian relations with the “calm before storm”. The most important thing is that the new leadership of Georgia should come to an understanding with Moscow in order to settle the existing problems.  

Q: Mikheil Saakashvili is widely expected to become Georgia next President. How Saakashvili is perceived by the Russia’s political circles?

A: Those people, who play an important role in formation of the public opinion in Russia, including representatives of the Russian media, are rather cautious towards Saakashvili. They consider him as a radical political figure, who can seriously aggravate the Russo-Georgian relations and lead to further confrontation with Adjara, and whose leadership probably will renew tensions with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Therefore, the Russian political elite are rather cautious towards Saakashvili. 

I think it would be better if Mikheil Saakashvili, when he becomes the President, tries to establish new relations with Moscow, taking into account those realities, which exist in the Caucasus, in Georgia, as well as those realities, which exist in the Russian-Georgian relationship.  I think, the Georgian leadership would better correct its policy in order to make its relations with Moscow more successful for Georgia.

It is very strange that out of other South Caucasian republics Georgia has the worst relations with Moscow. [Heidar] Aliyev, [Azerbaijan’s late President] managed to establish mutual understanding in relations between Russia and Azerbaijan; the Armenian leadership manages to balance its relations with Moscow and Washington, while Georgia remains a pariah for Russia.


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