GEORGIA VS. RUSSIA: DIVORCE IS INEVITABLE,
BUT WHY MAKE IT SO MESSY?


05.10.06
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov)

The high-profile scandal in Georgia, accompanied by the arrest and subsequent release of Russian officers, the blocking of a Russian military base, Moscow’s recall of diplomats in Tbilisi, and Russia’s financial and economic sanctions against Georgia have raised a question which goes beyond the recent deterioration in Georgian-Russian relations.

The problem is that 15 years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, the post-Soviet republics have not established a stable system of relations between themselves. Russia’s relations are particularly bad with these unfortunate countries, whose economies are extremely weak and depend completely on the outside world. In addition, they are pursuing an unpredictable political course and have serious territorial problems.

Georgia occupies the first place on this list. It is stunningly poor even by post-Soviet standards, has a weak and corrupt regime, and is in permanent conflict with its self-proclaimed autonomous republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moldova is another bright example. Having long ago lost control over Transdnestr, it is bogged down in an economic crisis and unemployment and has lost any prospect of becoming even a third-rate European country for decades to come.

Ukraine could also be listed in this group with some reservations. The situation is slowly getting better, but the country is still highly vulnerable to political crises and ethnic and cultural conflicts along the East-West divide, not to mention its unbalanced economy in need of energy sources, which it does not have and will not have in the foreseeable future.

After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., these countries found themselves isolated and weak politically and economically. They moved away from Russia, but did not find the road to the West. Their political regimes found a temporary solution in open confrontation with Russia. By looking for an outside enemy in the East, they were trying to unite their population at a time of terrible economic crises.

In the 1990s, such tactics produced some results. They evoked a positive response from the European Union and the United States, which still primarily viewed Russia as an imperialist power encroaching on the freedom of its smaller neighbors. Russia was too absorbed by its own problems to come up with an appropriate answer to the accusations.

But today the situation has changed. The political situation in Russia is stable, and its economy is growing at a fast pace. Moreover, Russia has overcome a major barrier in international relations. After almost a hundred years, it has returned to the global arena as a responsible partner of the leading world powers. It is enough to mention Russia’s active involvement in the G8. Recently, Vladimir Putin was awarded the French Legion of Honor, which shows that old Europe does not consider Russia’s return accidental or opportunistic.

As a result, anti-Russian rhetoric and ostentatious unfriendly acts are becoming an anachronism. Taking a global view, we shouldn’t be very hard on our small and weak neighbors. Many small neighbors of big countries behave like that. It is enough to mention Fidel Castro, or the recent episode involving Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a book by American scholar Noam Chomsky in the UN, where he accused the U.S. of trampling over the interests of developing nations. Apparently, some political leaders behave like this not only because they are prone to scandals and adventures. There must be some objective political logic behind such conduct.

Nevertheless, this political style has no future. This is becoming increasingly clear in the case of Russian-Georgian relations. No matter how much the Georgian authorities would like to blame Russia for the separatist attitudes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is clear that their population does not want to be part of Georgia. The situation was brought about by the wars Georgia waged against these republics and lost both politically and militarily.

Tbilisi fully realizes that it will not be able to recover these territories at the negotiating table. Having split from Soviet Georgia, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians will not come back. Georgia, however, cannot afford to wage a war that will bring it victory; this is why it is playing the familiar anti-Russian card. Only this time, Russia has decided to respond. These small countries are trying to settle their domestic problems by slinging mud at their big northern neighbor, on which they depend much more than Venezuela does on the U.S. These Russophobic attitudes are outrageous and totally uncalled for. Moreover, they are simply making it difficult to stabilize and streamline relations in the post-Soviet space and carry out what President Vladimir Putin calls a “civilized divorce,” in which each country copes with its problems on its own and pays normal market prices for everything.

To a certain extent, it is a good thing that Russian-Georgian relations have reached a critical point. The crisis may help put everything right. As a result, Russia and Georgia will probably even succeed in building completely transparent and rational relations which would be free of political games, blackmail and threats. But before this happens, Georgia will have to go through a very unpleasant period of financial and economic sanctions, which have already been approved by the Russian State Duma. The general freezing of bilateral relations is bound to deal a blow to the Georgian economy and undermine the interests of hundreds of thousands of Georgians who came to Russia to find jobs. All this is now at stake. As a result, Russia and Georgia will enter a new stage in their relations. They will not be able to avoid it.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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