Due West: Hashing it out three years on - Russia-Georgia relations

© RIA NovostiKonstantin von Eggert
Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
A year ago I was in the south Georgian port city of Batumi for a couple of days. There a new road sign showed directions to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, which has been recognized as an independent state by Moscow in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

A year ago I was in the south Georgian port city of Batumi for a couple of days. There a new road sign showed directions to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, which has been recognized as an independent state by Moscow in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

The Georgians are good at the language of symbols - in the end, there is nothing else left for them in the aftermath of the conflict - and the sign showed that they won’t concede defeat, at least not yet. And, as recent developments show, they have a certain point here.

The third anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war was marked by an interview Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave to the Russia Today TV network, Ekho Moskvy radio as well as the First Caucasian television channel from Georgia. In it the Russian leader repeated standard denunciations of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, saying that he would like to see him tried by an international tribunal. Simultaneously, Russian prosecutors delivered what they say is proof of Georgian crimes in South Ossetia to the International Criminal Court, where it had filed a lawsuit against the authorities in Tbilisi. Bearing in mind the sensitivity of the subject and the ability of international organizations like the ICC to procrastinate, I am certain we will not see any practical action on behalf of the court any time soon.

The only new development was Medvedev’s suggestion to fully normalize relations with Georgia if the official Tbilisi agreed to lift its objections to Russia joining the World Trade Organization.

However even this offer was invalidated - exactly by the proclaimed desire to see Saakashvili behind bars. After all, you cannot normalize relations with a country on the one hand and simultaneously and publicly brand its leader a criminal.

In fact, Medvedev played it safe. Should Georgia decide to allow Russia’s membership to the WTO (which doesn’t look likely for now) the Kremlin would claim that the Saakashvili government had to bend to pressures from the United States (to which this particular part of the interview was clearly addressed). Then the Russians would have had yet another reason to claim that the Georgian leader is nothing but an American puppet. In case Saakashvili does not change his attitude towards Russia’s WTO membership (as seems to be the case) it would be reason for Moscow to say: “Well, you see, he is so unreasonable that even the Americans can do nothing with him.”

Medvedev was very keen to stress that the 2008 war, which is still very popular in the Russian society, was “his decision” and his only. In this respect this interview was no doubt part of his continuing drive to position himself as a strong leader and a frontrunner in Russia’s upcoming presidential elections.

The fact that WTO membership may not materialize before the end of 2011 (as both the Russian and the American leaders suggested it will) may not be such a big price to pay for the top prize: the Russian presidency.

Looking into the future though, the Georgian question will not go away. First, Mikheil Saakashvili will remain president for more than a year. And very probably he will not leave power even after the end of his second presidential term, but will rather move into the prime minister’s chair. Second, the Georgian society may indeed get tired of him and credible opposition figures might emerge that will challenge him. But this will probably have no impact on the Georgian society’s view of the 2008 events as Russian aggression. So even if Saakashvili is gone, there is hardly a chance of a Georgian collaborationist emerging in his place. Third, it seems Western countries will not change their attitude either, so Russia’s de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (and to all intents in purposes, these two territories are in reality Russian dependencies). This leaves Moscow with very few diplomatic options.

Rescinding the diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or even compromising on elements of it, like letting the Georgian customs officers to man posts on the Russian-Abkhaz and Russian-Ossetian borders, is an unthinkable kowtow for Moscow. And no other step would make Tbilisi change its way. In fact only one - to stick to its position and hope for the day some new Georgian leader will say: “We do not need Abkhazia and South Ossetia anymore, but instead we do want to be members of the EU and NATO - and fast.” This will be the day when the Georgians would move on, and the Russian leadership could breathe a sigh of relief. The Georgians may be defeated militarily, but their ability to inconvenience Russia has paradoxically increased since that defeat. I do not think this situation will change any time soon.

Due West: Arab summer

Due West: Russian Nazis look to Norway

Due West: Sailing out of corruption

Due West: Medvedev should visit the graves of those who gave Russia true freedom

Due West: Otto of Austria - the uncrowned Emperor of Europe

Due West: Moscow and Minsk start a cold war, while China waits in the wings

Due West: Ukraine Turns Gaze Back to Brussels

Due West: Russia divided in wake of a murderer’s death

Due West: Long live the King!

Due West: Russia’s Balkans obsession seems to be finally over

Due West: Laying the table for Obama and Medvedev

Due West: Russia’s Two-Faced Approach to Foreign Policy

Due West: VE-Day Truths and Lies

Due West: George W. Bush has the last laugh

Due West: Wake up, it’s a new world Mr. Prime Minister

Due West: Putin vs. Medvedev

Due West: East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Due West: The Kuchma sensation

Due West: More Putin-Medvedev cat and mouse?

Due West: Send in the Sukhois

Due West: Russia’s Romance with conspiracy theories

Due West: Good-bye to a colonel and his Socialist People’s Republic

Due West: Was George W. Bush right on Arab democracy?

Due West: And What about Syria?

Due West: Boris Yeltsin - Russia's flawed but genuine revolutionary

Due West: Pointing fingers instead of pulling levers

Due West: The times they are a-changing – should secular Arabs fear democracy?

Due West: EU ready to sell out to Beijing

Due West: Not to be missed – two anniversaries in 2011

Due West: Hotspots and weak spots around the world in 2010

Due West: Lukashenko as Europe’s number one psychologist

Due West: Vaclav Havel – the man, who still believes in politics

Due West: Georgia’s wildcard in Russia’s WTO membership

Due West: The tabloid freedom of WikiLeaks

Due West: Russia prepared to go as far as NATO is prepared

Due West: Looking into the Russian-Japanese island spat

Due West: Russia's NATO Dream


What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала