Russia’s Georgia Policy in Essence

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

The leader from the Russian-occupied Georgian region of Abkhazia Sergei Baghapsh will spend two days in Moscow to meet with Russia’s leaders—President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin, and Patriarch Kirill. As reported by the media, several documents will be signed during his visit, including agreements on Russian military bases in Abkhazia and on air communication between Russia and a surrogate state in Georgian territory. To add to the significance of the “Russian-Abkhaz ties,” the Russian legislative organ, the State Duma, will adopt a declaration on “historical unity” between Russia and Abkhazia, marking in fact the 200-year anniversary of the Georgian province’s gradual annexation by the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 19th century.

Baghapsh’s trip to Moscow follows his “inauguration as president of Abkhazia” on February 12, a ceremony including the appearance of some second-tier Russian officials from Moscow and the North Caucasus. The leader of the Russian-occupied Georgian province of Tskhinvali, Eduard Kokoity, was also in attendance as well as Transdniester’s Igor Smirnov and Nagorno-Karabakh’s Bako Saakyan. Saakyan viewed the occasion as an opportunity to meet with representatives of the sizeable Armenian community in Abkhazia and spoke about “enhancing cooperation between the motherland and the Armenian diaspora.” Yerevan has always denied it has any influence on Armenians living in Abkhazia, and incidentally, Georgian officials have yet to comment on Saakyan’s participation in the inauguration ceremony, which may not be seen as a very Georgia-friendly move on the part of Armenia’s political leadership.

Russian news sources reported that the Belarusian ambassador to Moscow, Vasiliy Dolgolyov, also traveled to Abkhazia to mark the occasion, which is yet another alarming signal that Tbilisi is trying to halt the “recognition parade” orchestrated by Moscow. Georgia is now focusing on the countries in Latin America and the Pacific after Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru recognized Russia’s right to a sphere of influence and Georgia’s dismemberment. While recognition by a country in Latin America or the Pacific is by no means a pleasant diplomatic surprise for Tbilisi, a recognition extended by a Commonwealth of Independence States (CIS) country or by any Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) state, for that matter, would be truly disastrous for Georgia’s nationhood and integrity.

Russia’s Georgia policy has at least three dimensions: Georgia’s international isolation, internal destabilization and, simultaneously, gradual de-facto annexation of the occupied Georgian provinces. Discrediting Georgia’s pro-Western government of President Saakashvili and distancing the foreign capitals from Tbilisi is part of the Kremlin’s isolation efforts. Supporting the pro-Russian forces in Georgia and turning them into the fifth column is aimed at Georgia’s internal destabilization, whose zenith will be in the spring during the local election campaign. Strengthening the Russian military presence in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, while serving as “hardware” for their eventual annexation to Russia, may also be used in support of Georgia’s ex-premier Noghaideli who constantly threatens an “uprising and revolution” if Georgia’s local elections do not meet his expectations.