Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Georgia-Russia: Hostile Forever?
Georgian parliament. (Photo: Akhali Gazeti newspaper)
Despite their election defeat last October, President Mikhail Saakashvili’s political allies want the Georgian constitution to be changed to force all future governments to pursue the same external policies.
In a bill put forward on January 30, the United National Movement, UNM is seeking constitutional amendments that would enshrine the line taken by Saakashvili – in favour of European integration, against recognition of two breakaway territories, and against joining Russian-led regional blocs.
The UNM now forms the minority in parliament after it was ousted by the Georgian Dream coalition in the parliamentary election. Saakashvili will remain president until a vote is held later this year, but the incoming administration is already cutting away at his power.
Giorgi Baramidze, deputy speaker of parliament and a member of the UNM, set out the three main policy directions the bill would set in stone, were it to be passed.
“The first part obliges the government to maintain course towards integration into NATO and the European Union, so that in future no government can move away from this path,” he said.
Next, no government could grant recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose claim to independence is acknowledged only by Moscow and a handful of other states. Third, the bill would prevent Georgia from signing up to Moscow-led structures like the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS.
The UNM’s proposal followed remarks attributed to Mikhail Yevdokimov, head of the Russian foreign ministry’s CIS department, to the effect that contacts had begun with the new Georgian government about rejoining the CIS, which it left after a brief 2008 war with Russia.
Diplomatic contacts between Russia and Georgia currently take place only in Geneva, where the European Union, United Nations and Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe are mediating talks.
On January 31, two days after Yevdokimov’s comments, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich denied that Georgian re-entry to the CIS was on the agenda. Yevdokimov’s remarks had been “clearly misunderstood or wrongly interpreted by journalists”, he said.
When Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition defeated the UNM allies in October, he said he wanted to normalise relations with Russia, and appointed Zurab Abashidze as his special representative to Moscow.
On December 14, Abashidze met Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin, the first such meeting since the 2008 war. Afterwards, Abashidze said it had been businesslike and they had agreed to meet regularly.
“We stressed that relations between our countries are basically at a dead end, and we need to find ways out of it. For a start, we agreed to discuss trade, humanitarian and cultural ties, as well as air travel,” he said.
The UNM was doubtful that such contacts could lead to anything. Giorgi Kandelaki, one of its members in parliament, said Russia acting in its own interests, and progress would only be possible if Georgia compromised on its principles.
“The price Georgia will have to pay for normalising relations with Russia is very simple – Georgian sovereignty,” he said.
Ivanishvili’s administration, meanwhile, denies any ambition to join the CIS, and senior officials denied that any consultations on the subject had taken place.
“There is no time to think about the CIS when Georgia’s desire to enter the EU and NATO is firm and immutable,” Alexi Petriashvili, the state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, said.
The speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member David Usupashvili, said its foreign policy committee had begun considering future directions, but denied this would include CIS membership.
“If the UNM would like to join in [the discussion], then we will welcome them,” he said.
Opposition figures were further alarmed by comments from Ivanishvili in mid-January, when he visited Armenia and said the country was a good model for Georgia as it had positive relationships with both NATO and Russia.
The comment provoked much debate among political analysts in Tbilisi.
“It’s hard to imagine that a government elected by the people would shift from a course that’s supported by the absolute majority of citizens. It would, at the very least, involve a confrontation with its own voters,” said Tengiz Pkhakadze, director of the Centre for Geopolitical Studies. “But statements that give rise to doubts, and that can be interpreted in a number of ways, are being voiced frequently at the moment.”
Sofo Bukia is an IWPR-trained journalist in Georgia.
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