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