Russia-Georgia Relations: Among Illusions and Visions
Leaving public opinion aside, the leadership of all post-Soviet countries enjoy reasonably amicable relations with Russia The exception is Georgia, whose ongoing conflict with Russia is recognized as the most acute across the entire post-Soviet territory. Following the August War in 2008, Russia and Georgia are now officially enemies: direct diplomatic relations between the two countries has been cut. Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been seriously damaged by Russia‟s official recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “independent states”, or, in reality, Russian protectorates. In light of the worsening political relations between Georgia and Russia, ordinary Georgians overwhelmingly desire a positive relationship with Russia. According to a poll undertaken by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) in August 2009, 54% of Georgians continued to favor extremely close political cooperation with Russia. But this bilateral dispute is highly personal, with Russia‟s leadership saying it will not engage with President Saakashvili. And the dispute between these two countries is not based on a misunderstanding; it is a power conflict rooted in specific choices made by the political leaders of Russia and Georgia.
Most local analysts believe that relations will improve with new leadership, and have focused on the search for short-term political parallels in the 2012 presiden-tial elections that will take place in both Russia and Georgia: will Saakashvili use the “Putin Model”? If so, who will be the Georgian “Medvedev”? But there is no speculation that really illuminates Georgia‟s politi-cal trajectory and its future relations with Russia. Per-haps the most striking issue is that personal relations at the highest level are extremely poor; the mutual dislike between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has in some ways come to define the current relationship between Russia and Georgia. The impact this clash has had on relations between the two countries re-flects the intense role that personality plays in gov-ernments of the former Soviet states. The infor-mation war between Russian and Georgia after the August War was based largely on the mutual accusa-tions of culpability between leaderships . It seems that the problem is to do with the leadership; the majority desire of Georgians for close cooperation with Russia changes when the focus is placed on Moscow‟s current government. According to a Gal-lup poll, Georgia is the country with the highest percentage of people who do not approve of Russia‟s leadership (76%) .
Saakashvili and his government face a dilemma with regard to next year‘s parliament elections and af-terwards presidential elections.
Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 2 No. 3