Alexander Rondeli, Director of the Foreign Policy Research and Analysis Center at Georgias Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Comments on Geopolitical Conditions in the Caucasus
Georgia and Russia have been at odds in recent months. The two countries have bickered over the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia, and have sparred over the issue of control of Georgia's border with the renegade Russian province of Chechnya. For some local perspective into Georgian-Russian relations and other security issues, EurasiaNet interviewed Alexander Rondeli, Director of the Foreign Policy Research and Analysis Center in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tbilisi. Dr. Rondeli is also Professor in the Department of International Law and International Relations of Tbilisi State University. He has held an IREX Mid-Career Fellowship at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, taught at Williams College and Emory University in the United States. The interview was conducted by Dr. Robert M. Cutler on August 14. The text of the interview follows:EurasiaNet: What is Georgia's evaluation of relations with Russia?Rondeli: Our relations with Russia are good, but there are still many unresolved problems.EurasiaNet: Last November, at the OSCE summit in Istanbul, Russia agreed to evacuate its four remaining military bases in Georgia: Vaziani, near the capital Tbilisi; Gudauta, in Abkhazia; Akhalkalaki, in the southern region of Javakheti; and Batumi, in Ajaria. How have the negotiations with Russia over this withdrawal proceeded?Rondeli: Russia has to reduce its military hardware in Georgia by 358 Treaty Limited Equipment (TLE), which includes such pieces as tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces. Russia has in fact started to evacuate the bases at Vaziani and Gudauta. The first shipments of Russian matériel, comprising 54 pieces and including 29 TLE have been removed from the Vaziani base. By the end of August, matériel will be removed from Gudauta as well. The second stage of the withdrawal will then take place from September 5 through 10.EurasiaNet: There was some disagreement about whether Russia would retain the airfield at Vaziani, which, strictly speaking, is said to be outside the perimeter of the base itself. Has the question of the status of the airfield been resolved?Rondeli: The airfield in Vaziani will go under Georgian control, but Georgia will allow Russia to use also the airfield to certain extent, [for as long as] Russian bases remain in Georgia. The dates for evacuating the [other] two bases, Akhalkalaki and Batumi, have to be defined separately.EurasiaNet: Have you the impression that there may be elements within the Russian security forces that are not interested in stable state-to-state relations?Rondeli: We have to admit that there are some negative impulses towards Georgia. For me it is difficult to say where these impulses come from, but they became clearly seen when, with the beginning of Chechen events, an aggressive propaganda war started in Russia against Georgia. Georgia was portrayed as a contributor to Chechen separatism. The Russian media are not, in general, very kind towards Georgia. I think it does not contribute to the improvement of our relations.EurasiaNet: How did the recent Russian military action in Chechnya affect Georgia?Rondeli: The war in Chechnya, which is on Georgia's border, creates many problems for us. First of all, we admitted around 7,000 refugees from Chechnya, at a time when Georgia already has a problem of more than three hundred thousand refugees, mostly from Abkhazia. To have war on your border cannot be a pleasant thing for any country, especially in the Caucasus.EurasiaNet: At one time Russia wished to form joint Russian-Georgian patrols of Georgia's border in the region of Chechnya. What is the situation there now?Rondeli: The Chechen section of our border with Russia is monitored by an OSCE team, and we consider this as a very positive fact. Russians control the border from their side, and our border-guards from our side. They are in close contact and cooperate.EurasiaNet: Is the situation stable in South Ossetia?Rondeli: The situation in the Tskhinvali region (South Ossetia) is stable. There are positive processes there.EurasiaNet: Do you anticipate that Russia's withdrawal from the Gudauta base in Abkhazia will facilitate the positive resolution of the conflict between Sukhumi and Tbilisi?Rondeli: I think that Russian withdrawal from Gudauta base will contribute positively to resolving the conflict between Tbilisi and Sukhumi.EurasiaNet: What are today the main obstacles to such a resolution?Rondeli: The main obstacle to such a resolution remains the unconstructive position of Abkhazian side, which insists on the recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state.EurasiaNet: Many proposals have been made concerning the type of political relations that should be established between Abkhazia and the political center in Georgia: federation, confederation, "common state", etc. In your view, what is the most practical solution and how is it to be achieved?Rondeli: Georgia several times stated its position: Territorial integrity of Georgia, existence of the sole constitutional field, and the widest possible form of self-governance for Abkhazia to be constitutionally and internationally guaranteed within that framework.