Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Russia's View of Its Relations with Georgia after the 2012 Elections: Implications for Regional Stability

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Russia's View of Its Relations with Georgia after the 2012 Elections: Implications for Regional Stability

Article excerpt

In October 2012 Georgia saw a change of power. Since that time Russia and Georgia have broken the stalemate in their relations, which have been normalizing despite the skepticism coming from both sides.1 A political dialogue has been in progress between the two states. Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin has been holding regular meetings with the Georgian Prime Minister's Special Representative in Relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze. The hostile rhetoric from both sides has significantly diminished. Back on the Russian market are traditional Georgian goods, and the influx of Russian tourists in Georgia has grown by 40 %. Amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories are under discussion in the Georgian parliament. It is expected that visits to Abkhazia and South Ossetia made by Russian citizens without Georgia's permission for the first time will be decriminalized. Additionally, contacts between the two countries in the cultural sphere have intensified, and the scientific communities of Russia and Georgia have been actively interacting.

Before the Sochi Olympic Games 2014 Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili offered assistance to Moscow in providing security during the event. The detention of Mikhail Kadiev, Rizvan Omarov2 and Yusup Lakaev, the suspects of murdering of some Russian officials, could also be seen as a result of cooperation between Georgia and Russia on security issues. This cooperation is especially important with Russian President Vladimir Putin having said in 2013 that the efficiency of a joint terrorism counteraction may be the first step towards restoring visa-free regime between the two countries.3

Naturally, these symptoms of rapprochement in the Russo-Georgian relations are combined with some serious obstacles. The latter are inevitable taking into consideration the long period that Moscow and Tbilisi had been at loggerheads. Nonetheless, the general dynamics of the bilateral relationship today is positive. The purpose of this paper is to analyze, why the normalization of these relations came so late and in what way it may affect both the Russo-Georgian relations and the regional security.

A Deferred Normalization

It has taken more than four years for conditions to ripen enough politically to finally raise the question of possible normalization of Russo-Georgian relations damaged by the August conflict 2008 between Georgia and South Ossetia. On August 8 in violation of international treaties Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili launched an artillery and ground assault on the breakaway region of Tskhinvali near the Russian border. Under its peacekeeping mandate, Moscow responded with a military campaign to coerce Georgia into ceasing its operations. After five days of hostilities Russian forces expelled the Georgian troops from South Ossetia. In order to prevent further attempts by Tbilisi to capture Tskhinvali by force, Russia decided to recognize South Ossetia as an independent state and to provide it with military deterrence capabilities.

Moscow believed that coming to any agreement with Mikhail Saakashvili was impossible. In the Russian leadership's eyes he became notorious for failing to keep his word. The most striking-although not the only-example of this was the shelling of Tskhinvali on 8 August in 2008 several hours after he had announced a unilateral ceasefire on Georgian television. Had Moscow started relations with Georgia afresh, would there be any guarantee that this will not happen again? At the same time Georgia was also giving contradictory signals, and discerning the general logic of its policy was impossible. Saakashvili made some statements that could be considered encouraging. For instance, he spoke in favor of dialogue with Russia and promised not to use force against Abkhazia or South Ossetia, he promised from the podium of the European Parliament.4 However, in the wider perspective of the Georgian government policies these speeches were hardly convincing, and shortly after the call for dialogue, Saaskashvili claimed that Russia's sole goal was to "swallow Georgia. …

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