Pragmatism Spurs Russia and Georgia toward Smoother Relations
Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor
Signs of a thaw between Russia and Georgia include the reopening of one border post on the major Caucasus highway and a possible move to resume direct air links. Relations between Russia and Georgia behave been in a freeze since last year's war over breakaway Georgian territories.
The invective between Kremlin leaders and Georgian President Mikhael
Saakashvili continues to fly furiously, even though the gunfire from
last year's brief Russo-Georgian war has died down.
But amid growing rumors that diplomatic rapprochement may be in the
air, experts say some practical necessities are dragging the two
antagonists toward at least a partial settlement of their
The signs include last week's deal to reopen a single border post on
the major Caucasus highway and a possible agreement to resume direct
"The prevailing mood in Georgia is that relations with Russia should
be improved, and the government should work more actively toward that
end," says Georgi Khutsishvili, director of the independent Center on
Conflict and Negotiation in Tbilisi.
"The fact that leaders of both countries have a terrible personal
relationship, and keep saying bad things, is not a suitable basis for
state policy. We need to move beyond that," he adds.
Russia and Georgia fought a savage little war last year over the
breakaway territories of Abhkazia and South Ossetia.
Since then, relations have been in a deep freeze.
Both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev
have made angry - and sometimes very personal - allegations
against Mr. Saakashvili, and the Kremlin appears to have hoped that
he would be unseated in an unsuccessful wave of Georgian opposition
protests that took place earlier this year.
Yet Mr. Medvedev said this month that he favors restoration of
direct air service between Moscow and Tbilisi, and Russia's border
service hailed last week's decision to reopen the Upper Lars
checkpoint, citing the "shared need to resume international traffic
between Russia and Georgia."
Russia's only Caucasus ally, Armenia, has suffered badly from the
cutoff of land transport links. Moscow maintains a cold war-era
military garrison in Armenia, reportedly with more than 1,000 troops,
and has had chronic difficulties resupplying them.
"Russia's ties with Armenia are important, and so it would be of
some benefit to Russia if it could normalize the transport links,"
says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for
Political Technologies in Moscow.
For his part, Saakashvili has repeatedly accused Moscow of plotting
his overthrow, a charge he renewed in a weekend speech. …