Russia Should Consider Rapprochement with Georgia
Today Georgia will commemorate the April 9, 1989 demonstration, dispersed by Soviet troops, which divided Russia and Georgia. Their deteriorating relations were ultimately severed as a result of the August 2008 war in South Ossetia and Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
It seems that Russian-Georgian relations never improve. A generally grim background is complicated by the poor personal relationship between President-elect Vladimir Putin and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Moscow has said that it will talk with Tbilisi only after Saakashvili steps down, which should happen in 2013. But there is no guarantee that bilateral relations will improve with the next Georgian president. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Moscow refused to talk with the “nationalist” Georgian leader, Gamsakhurdia, or with Shevardnadze, a democrat. And there are grounds to assume that, at least initially, a new Georgian president would not suit the Kremlin any better because he would be committed to the country’s foreign policy and to its multibillion-dollar debt, primarily to Washington. Russia is annoyed by Georgia’s Western leaning and its desire to join NATO. Late last year, President Dmitry Medvedev said at a meeting with the military in Vladikavkaz that the 2008 war prevented NATO expansion.
But in fact, NATO is already in Georgia, with Turkish and U.S. troops unofficially deployed there while NATO countries help Georgia. In addition, Georgia routinely dispatches troops for NATO operations. In short, NATO has already advanced to Russia’s southern border without formalizing the expansion. This strategy is supported by European heavyweights like Germany and France who do not want to formalize a military alliance with Georgia burdened by territorial issues. If Russia cannot prohibit Georgia from maintaining bilateral military relations with a NATO country perhaps it’s time to consider an offer that would offset its efforts to join the alliance?
A restoration of its territorial integrity is Georgia’s main objective and biggest complaint against Russia. Some Georgian political forces suggest giving up the hope for NATO membership if it would help regain the lost territory. Over the past 10 years, the number of Georgians supporting NATO membership has fallen from 90 percent to 65 percent-70 percent. Considering this trend, Russia could propose that Tbilisi scale its cooperation with NATO down to a level acceptable to Moscow in return for the restoration of the Soviet-era Georgian borders, with the breakaway republics reintegrated as members of a confederation. This is not a fail-safe scenario, and it is further complicated by the fact that Russia would also need to negotiate the issue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which seldom accept compromises on the issues of principle.
In any case, both sides should concentrate on proposals for resolving their interstate problems. The search for a “second-best” solution – a compromise – would be a chance for the people of Russia and Georgia to break the cycle of hostility. Middle East conflicts show that this kind of confrontation can last a long time. Why copy bad examples?
Pensioners, Monarchists Organize Political Parties
On Saturday, two new political parties held their inaugural conferences, the Russian Pensioners’ Party, which is being resurrected, and the Monarchic Party which is lobbying to reinstate the Romanov dynasty of Russian monarchs.
State Duma member Igor Zotov, the unanimously elected Pensioners’ Party leader, explained that his party had been incorporated as a division of A Just Russia, but that that arrangement did not prove productive. “I don’t want to fling mud at my opponents. We just weren’t needed,” he said. Now the party is being reestablished and is based on a public association, the Russian Pensioners for Justice, with about 60,000 members.
“Our voters provided support for A Just Russia,” he said. “Compare 13 percent at the parliamentary election with 4 percent for Mironov as a presidential candidate. They won’t be able to cross the eligibility threshold at the next election.”
The Pensioners’ Party plans to run in presidential and city mayors’ elections. Although the party is “interested in a social-democratic platform,” they do not plan to merge or bloc with the Social-Democratic Union now being established by Dmitry and Gennady Gudkov and Ilya Ponomaryov (from A Just Russia). “We have a positive program, and none of my team participated in the Bolotnaya protests, where people just yelled and didn’t do anything,” Zotov declared.
According to Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy head of the Just Russia group in the Duma, the new party is a Kremlin-approved “spoiler” aimed at “diluting the opposition. “Zotov was the only one to quit A Just Russia,” he added. “They used him once to destabilize the Pensioners’ Party when it gained too much influence.”
Alexei Makarkin from the Center for Political Technologies believes that the party has potential, and how it fares will depend on who joins it. “It has proved its worth in the regions. It’s a good brand, and it can grow very strong if it continues attracting local politicians. But it is unlikely to succeed if it aims exclusively at destabilizing A Just Russia.”
On the same day, the Russian Monarchic Party was established and 1,000 people joined. It is led by Sverdlovsk based Anton Bakov, a former State Duma member. He started his political career in the 1990s at the Sverdlovsk branch of Sergei Shakhrai’s Party of Russian Unity and Accord. He has changed parties several times since then, having been a member of United Russia and the Union of Right Forces, but left the United Russia group in the Duma over various disagreements with the leadership. He also masterminded several unusual projects such as buying Suwarrow, a coral atoll, from the government of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, to declare it the reinstated Russian Empire and himself, its prime minister.
Despite all that, according to Makarkin, the monarchists should not be viewed as simply an eccentric sideshow. Bakov is a campaign professional, so this may be an attempt at creating an alternative to LDPR in parliament, if Zhirinovsky becomes less effective in his niche, the analyst said.
Russia to Build Railway to Alaska
Russian Railways says it will construct a tunnel under the Bering Strait in an effort to build a rail link to the state of Alaska, according to Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin. He unveiled his plan to an incredulous audience at a conference in the UK about a month ago.
Addressing a conference in St. Petersburg a few days ago, Yakunin said he was not a dreamer: “I announced this plan when I took office and was invited to the Foreign Ministry. I didn’t invent the idea; it has been discussed as far back as the tsars.”
The United States is interested too, and have indicated it would build an 800-kilometer-long line to the Strait, he added.
“We are at the conceptual stage now. Russia needs to develop the Far East and Kamchatka; this development policy can be moved forward with the help of an expanded rail system in that part of the country. A decision to launch the project is likely to be approved within the next three to five years, and we can expect it to be completed with 10 to 15 years,” he said.
In November 2011, a rail line reached Nizhny Bestiakh (15 kilometers from Yakutsk). From there it could head to Magadan and on to the Bering Strait. At this point, Yakutsk is cut off from the rail system by the Lena River, an obstacle that will have to be bridged.
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