Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Georgia and Russia Plan for Presidential Level Meeting

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (the 19/02/2014 of the CACI Analyst)

Georgian authorities have expressed their readiness to prepare for a top-level meeting between Georgia's and Russia's presidents. The last time the two countries’ presidents met was in July 2008, prior to the August war between Russian and Georgia.

On February 6, the Russian president's spokesperson Dmitri Peskov did not “rule out” the possibility of a meeting between the presidents during the Olympic Games in Sochi. Peskov refused to elaborate on the issue, noting that Russia's president Vladimir Putin would welcome anyone “who comes as a guest” to the event. Georgia's presidential administration was quick to decline a meeting in Sochi as the Georgian official delegation did not plan to attend the Winter Olympic Games.

The topic gained new momentum while Putin said during the event that the Olympic Games contributed to rapprochement between Russia and Georgia and wished success to Georgian athletes participating in it. Responding to a question from Georgian journalists whether he would meet the Georgian president Giorgi Margvelshvili, Putin said “Yes, if he wants; why not.” Putin's statement was followed by one from Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin, indicating that he would discuss the details of a possible high-level meeting in the format of a bilateral dialogue, scheduled for March, with Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister’s Representative for Russian Relations.

After that statement, Georgian authorities confirmed that they were ready to have a direct dialogue with Kremlin. “Such a meeting – on such a level and after such a long pause – requires very serious preparation and planning,” Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said when commenting on Putin’s remarks. He also noted that Western partners expect Georgia to take positive steps towards Russia and intensify its constructive dialogue with Moscow.

Likewise, President Margvelashvili said that issue should be analyzed cautiously. In the Rustavi 2 TV talk show Position on 14 February, Margvelashvili said that he does not expect the Kremlin to mount pressure on Georgia to refrain from signing an Association Agreement with the EU. Margvelashvili stressed that since there is no military solution to restore Georgia's territorial integrity, the Georgian government might show Moscow that it is ready to discuss “in a rational context what might be Russia’s interest.”

In January, apparently under instructions from the Kremlin, Abkhazia’s de facto government redrew its so-called “border zone” with Russia almost by 11 kilometers deeper into region to enlarge the security area around Sochi and to reinforce safety measures ahead of the Olympic Games. It is not clear whether the “border zone” will be reverted to its initial boundaries after the event.

Despite this move, Gharibashvili confirmed Georgia's willingness to cooperate with Moscow on security matters ahead of the Sochi Olympics at the Munich Security Conference on February 1. According to Ekho Kavkaza, prior to the opening of the Olympics, Georgian border guards restricted entry for some North Caucasus residents via the Upper Larsi checkpoint located at the state border between Georgia and Russia. At the Munich conference, Gharibashvili also declared that Georgia has an unresolved conflict with its brothers, Abkhazians and South Ossetians, which was interpreted by the political opposition and some analysts as an attempt by the PM to downplay Moscow’s role as a conflict instigator.

Another important step is the agreement in January by Georgian authorities to extradite the North Caucasian Mikhail Kadiev to Moscow. Kadiev is wanted in Russia and was arrested for illegal acquisition and possession of weapons and explosive substances by Georgian law enforcement in July 2013. Georgia's Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation did not grant him political asylum. Kadiev’s lawyer, Gela Nikolaishvili, insists that Georgian authorities plan to deport other North Caucasian suspects of extremism to Russia in order to please Moscow.

Another development that Moscow might have appreciated is the appointment of UK citizen Ryan Grist as the deputy Head of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM). Grist publicly blamed the Georgian government for launching military actions in August 2008, while he held the post of Deputy Head of the OSCE mission in Georgia. He assessed the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali as “completely indiscriminate and disproportionate.” Terhi Hakala, then Head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia, dismissed his comments. The Georgian government has not expressed concerns regarding Grist’s appointment.

Instead, Tbilisi insists that its steps and rhetoric correspond with its declared policy to normalize relations with Russia. However, sometimes the initially stated “normalization” looks more like an “appeasement” policy reflected in the lack of a clearly defined agenda stating what objectives should be reached and what concessions can be tolerated. Thus, in order to work toward the goal of normalization, Georgia needs to develop a more coherent approach based on clearly defined national interests, especially ahead of a possible high-level meeting between Georgian and Russian counterparts. In addition, Tbilisi should ensure that direct dialogue will not undermine the multilateral format of the Geneva Talks, in which Georgia-Russia negotiations are conducted in the presence of partner countries.

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