Thaw in relations between Russia and Georgia

Malkhaz Tsulukiani, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Thaw in relations between Russia and Georgia

After a long diplomatic break, which lasted 11 years, the foreign ministers of the Russian Federation and Georgia, Sergey Lavrov and David Zalkaliani met on neutral territory - in the UN secretariat special room. One cannot judge upon which party initiated the meeting in New York - diplomats opt not to disclose such details. But after the negotiations, Zalkaliani on the air on Georgian TV said that the idea of meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister had originated during his preliminary conversation with Swiss diplomats.

After the 2008 five-day war, neutral Switzerland with centuries-old experience acts as an intermediary between the two neighboring states lacking diplomatic relations, interrupted in August 2008 by a decision of the then President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.

The negotiations between Lavrov and Zalkaliani lasted less than an hour. In the interview, the Georgian minister considered it necessary to mention that he spoke with a Russian colleague about the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the Russian minister, in his turn, repeated the well-known thesis that Russia had recognized the independence of the former Georgian autonomies. The unchanging positions of the parties on the “red lines” of the fundamental interstate contradictions did not come as a surprise, but the very fact of the meeting indicates a mutual desire to build relations where it is possible bypassing the mentioned “red lines”.

In anticipation of the meeting in New York, the Russian Foreign Minister made two important statements on Georgian issues: Sergey Lavrov said that if Georgia joins NATO, Moscow will not start a war, but the relations with the alliance will be seriously undermined. In addition, the head of the Russian diplomatic department did not rule out the resumption of direct flights between the two countries, interrupted after the turbulent June events in Tbilisi, where rallies were held against the visit of State Duma deputies to the country.

Following a statement by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who called Russia "the enemy and occupier," Vladimir Putin ordered to suspend the air traffic with the Caucasian republic. But as Sergey Lavrov hinted recently, over the past three months, "the majority of the Georgian population have realized the counterproductive provocative nature of the escapade in the Georgian parliament," and there are more sane politicians appeared in Georgia.

The ban on direct flights from Russian cities hit the tourism industry of Georgia. By the end of the year, the country may lose from 350 to 400 million euros. Alarming expectations put pressure on the national currency, the lari, which has hit an unprecedentedly low level in 25 years - 3.2 lari per euro.

However, in June, the Russian leadership abstained from a comprehensive embargo, did not stop importing Georgian agricultural products, wine and Borjomi, and now there are talks about restoring flights. Apparently, the official Tbilisi’s steps that were taken after the summer exacerbation were considered acceptable in Moscow: several leaders and participants of the “anti-occupation movement” are either arrested or under investigation on charges of trying to storm the parliament. The country's top leadership, including the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, condemned the scandalous escapade of journalist George Gabuniya on Rustavi-2. Soon, the owner of the channel changed. But most importantly, the former Minister of Internal Affairs, George Gakharia who has connections with Russia, became the Prime Minister of Georgia. Unlike previous prime ministers, he is considered a self-sufficient figure capable of making important decisions, including in the Russian direction, despite the fierce stance of the opposition.

Roman Gotsiridze, one of Saakashvili’s closest associates in the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that the latest steps and statements by the Russian leadership are aimed at “supporting and encouraging the pro-Russian Prime Minister Gakharia,” whom Moscow, according to the opposition’s conviction, considers ”an inside man in Georgia."

Whether it is right or not, we will see in the near future. Saakashvili and his associates are increasingly talking about the preparation of some "catastrophic for the country" agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi. And in their opinion, the first step will be the restoration of diplomatic relations and the return of Georgia to the CIS in the near future.