Dmitry Litvinovich: Eduard Shevardnadze – a wolf in sheep’s clothing

A session of Georgian and Russian expert groups on development of a new framework agreement “On friendship, good neighborly relations, and cooperation between Georgia and the Russian Federation” will take place in Moscow between January 15-20.

Georgia is the last country on the territory of the former USSR with which Russia has concluded such an agreement. Much has changed since the breakup of the USSR: the relations between the two countries went up and fell down. Now, the relations between Russia and Georgia revolve around several interrelated problems: Russian military units in Georgia and peacekeepers in Abkhazia, Moscow’s support of the separatist leadership of Abkhazia and Tbilisi’s support of Chechen militants, and the introduction of a visa requirement by Russia.

The withdrawal of military units from Georgia is currently under way; by end of the autumn of 2001, when the situation about the Pankissky Gorge reached its peak, President Putin offered to introduce Russian paratroopers in the area. According to some statements, Russia has already pledged an agreement “to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity." At the end of the first round of negotiations, the head of the Georgian delegation said that Tbilisi would not insist on the immediate withdrawal of the Russian military units, despite the fact that the mandate expired on December 31. This is an important fact, but we know that the Georgian leadership is rather inconstant, which is why Russia should not delude itself by the promise.

All actions and statements of President Shevardnadze have been directed towards the West, and well-disposed reactions were expected from there. However, the West will not fall out with Russia because of Georgia. Even Georgia’s promise to provide military bases for NATO’s use did not change the situation. Georgia’s time has not yet come.

The only thing left for Eduard Shevardnadze was to appeal to Russia. The 10th CIS summit has changed the situation: after President Putin’s promise to render economic assistance to Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze forgot all about the bombings on Georgian territory and Russia’s support of Abkhazia’s separatists.

However, the importance of Eduard Shevardnadze should not be underestimated. He knows secret effective levers he can push in order to exert pressure on Russia. These are Russia’s military units stationed in Georgia and the problem of peacekeepers in Abkhazia. Georgia will promise a slight ease in these problems to Russia, but ,at the same time, it will try to put the screws on Russia regarding the visa requirement problem. The visa requirement introduced by Russia is a serious obstacle for Georgia. If Russia abolishes the regime, there will be no means to put pressure on Georgia, unless RAO UES of Russia deenergizes Georgia.

Dmitry Litvinovich PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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