Georgia Calls for Caution as Tensions Rise with Russia
As anger builds in Georgia over Russia’s latest alleged attempt to redesign the country’s borders, Tbilisi is urging Georgians
not to let their emotions get in the way of attempts at rapprochement with Moscow.
“Let’s not be naïve and expect that some meeting will convince Russia to change its policy toward Georgia, toward neighboring countries,” commented Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s envoy to talks with Russia, after meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague on July 15.
The ever concerned Karasin had a few tips of his own.
“We have to do our utmost to make sure emotional explosions like this do not disrupt the process of normalization of Georgian-Russian relations,” RIA Novosti reported him as saying.
The talks between Karasin and Zurab Abashidze, centered on tensions over Russian troops on July 11 snagging a piece of Georgian-controlled territory for separatist South Ossetia, and shanghai’ing a piece of BP’s Baku-Supsa oil pipeline in the process.
The calls for calm are easy for Karasin to make, many Georgians believe. His country’s borders and the de-facto frontiers of its separatist proteges are only expanding, while the space Moscow has allotted to neighbors Georgia and Ukraine is getting smaller.
In response to this latest land grab, various rallies have been staged, with a larger-scale event planned for downtown Tbilisi on July 18 in front of the government chancellory.
At one protest, Georgian journalists removed the “Republic of South Ossetia” border marker installed on July 11 and planted a Georgian flag in its place.
The deputy head of South Ossetia’s de-facto border service, KGB Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gazev, arrived on the scene on July 16 with armed men to take the flag down. He warned Georgian journalists that “appropriate measures” would be taken if they took further actions in the area.
Farming already is impossible, local Georgian villagers say.
The European Union, which maintains a peace-monitoring mission in Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian conflict zone, has warned of rising tensions and complications for the population living along the disputed line.
Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili on July 16 emphasized that one "false step" in response to Russian and South Ossetian separatists' actions could result in a "provocation," which would bring "destabilization" to Georgia.
The Kremlin initially tried to pass the buck to South Ossetia, which Moscow promotes as an independent country, saying that Russian troops are demarcating the de-facto border at the separatists’ behest. Later, though, Karasin blamed alleged Georgian provocateurs for the escalation.
Russian mainstream media, meanwhile, generally has emphasized that the ruling Georgian Dream blames the policies of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili for the troubles with South Ossetia — a point that tallies with Moscow’s own view of the former Georgian leader and Russia's 2008 war with Georgia.
But Moscow, using a time-honored tactic, wants Georgians to know that it can be a good cop, too.
It has decided to let drop a hint about “simplified visa procedures” for Georgian citizens; a pitch targeting the thousands of Georgian labor migrants to Russia and their families. Details will be shared later, a meeting summary provided by Tbilisi claimed.
Similarly, the Kremlin-friendly Kommersant pointed out on July 16 that expanded commercial flights between Russia and Georgia were also discussed in Prague. More such flights are in store, with details, again, to come, the paper claimed.
The Georgian government has, indeed, been pursuing a thaw with Moscow as a way to build security. But Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Ghariabashvili maintains it also is standing strong against Russia’s land-grabs. On July 16, he urged Georgian politicians not to give “anyone or any force the means” to stir up more tensions.
Yet Abashidze, a former Georgian ambassador to Moscow who, arguably, has the most regular face-to-face time with Russian officials, does not sound hopeful about a way out of the border fight.
“Everyone is having a hard time in relations with Russia, and so are we. We should face this reality. I was not expecting that I’d convince anyone yesterday and that they would put the signposts over their shoulders and take them back, ashamed,” Abashidze told the TV station Imedi.
He proposed mobilizing the international community and media as the best course of action, though said he is not too optimistic about international pressure forcing Russia to change its ways.