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Saakashvili's unwise divorce

Saakashvili's unwise divorce

It is high time to stop believing assurances of friendship. While relations between people in the former Soviet republics remain very friendly, government policy follows a different logic.
Even during the Cold War, we had TV bridges with the United States. Vladimir Pozner and Phil Donahue hosted talk shows where people swore to eternal friendship and discussed all kind of personal issues. This did little to solve international problems but at least improved the general atmosphere.
Now despite mutual declarations of friendship, negative emotions between Russia and Georgia are running higher than ever. Who needs this escalation of hostility? President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili and his team need tension with Russia for a simple reason: He was elected as the president of hope. Georgian people believed his promise to resolve long-standing domestic problems, including territorial integrity.
An astute politician, Saakashvili made a breakthrough in the conflict with Adzharia. He brought Batumi back under Tbilisi's control, thereby creating a credit of confidence for himself for months, if not years ahead. But this has been just about his only achievement. The situation in the economy and in society in general leaves much to be desired. Success in Adzharia has not been repeated in Ossetia or Abkhazia for objective reasons. Although some leaders and political groups in Adzharia had been confrontational, they had never declared cessation from Georgia. Its people and other Georgian citizens are not divided by such grave problems as bloodshed or re-division of property. It was easy to get Adzharia back, all the more so since the Abashidze regime had been utterly corrupt.
The longtime conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia cannot be resolved in one go but the Georgian leaders have raised the stakes. Irakli Okruashvili, Georgian prosecutor general, even made an ill-starred announcement about his intention to celebrate the New Year in South Ossetia. However, life proved otherwise.
Georgia wanted to blame its failures on some evil enemy, and Russia was a perfect choice. This is why Georgia is provoking Russia. I think this is the most important reason, while Saakashvili's flirtation with the United States and the West as a whole is only a consequence. This position explains why Saakashvili is looking for support in the West rather than Moscow. Having chosen to go for the current round of escalation, he has cut it fine. He had no stake in gradual normalization of relations between our countries after the outbursts of the past fall. His idea was to get more and more arguments for the West in a bid to speed up the review of Georgia's application for NATO's membership.
Advantageous situation
It is also to Georgia's advantage that right now the West is not happy with Moscow for a number of reasons, such as the aggravation of discord on the missile defense issue in Europe, the Litvinenko case, energy domination and an obstinate stance on Kosovo's status. The West was critical of Russia before, when during one of the crises Russian officials and law-enforcement bodies were clumsily extraditing Georgian citizens or instructing teachers in Moscow schools to compile lists of students with Georgian names. This was appalling and the Western reaction was appropriate. Saakashvili was perfectly right in assuming that in any dispute between Moscow and Tbilisi, Moscow would be presumed guilty.
The current mutual accusations of bombings and air space violations are largely reminiscent of the theatre of the absurd. As a civilian, I find it hard to judge what this missile in Georgia was all about. But it seems that Georgia was at fault in this incident. Saakashvili and his entourage probably simply did not know that they should not have approached a suspicious projectile and look at it from a close distance. It is strange that the missile's serial number was not registered and that it was destroyed in a rush. At the same time, Russia made many categorical statements but the West did not consider them as convincing as the readings of our radars might have been.
Regrettably, the Western position as regards Russian-Georgian relations is mostly based on last year's events, where Russia was not up to the mark. Now the process of improving relations has been launched, although the bitter feeling is still there.
I think it was not the cancellation of flights that had a bad impact on Western policymakers. The move was at least justified - Georgian companies owed money to Russian airports and traffic controllers. But the incident with the lists of Georgian students at Moscow schools cannot be redressed. Something could have been done, though. If some police official initiated this stupidity, he could have been publicly demoted. In principle, any government is judged not by how many mistakes it makes, but by how it corrects them. Timely punishment for overzealous officials would be a good example. Now it is too late to do anything - the damage has already been done.
In order to improve our relations, Russia should try to provide maximum evidence to prove that it is not guilty of what it is being accused of. We should learn the lessons from both the Soviet past and our present; we should give up imperial ambitions and learn to understand that the post-Soviet space is no longer our exclusive domain.
Boris Makarenko is deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies.


Updated : 2021-07-27 08:40 GMT+08:00