For the first time in recent years, Russia and the USA are to have a direct, not a telephone, talk, at first in Tbilisi and then in Moscow, about coordinating Russian and US diplomacy in relation to Georgia.
The heads of the Russian and US foreign policy departments, Igor Ivanov and Colin Powell, met at Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's inauguration ceremony at the weekend. Powell has now flown to Moscow where he is set to discuss many subjects, including Georgia, with the Russian leadership.
Russian public opinion, just like any other for that matter, often lives in past realities that politicians stopped following long ago. This is how many in Russia see relations with the USA with regard to Georgia. They adhere to a stereotype: the Americans wrestled Georgia from the Russians, installing "their" president there by staging a coup in order to build up military presence. Moscow is resisting this, trying to weaken its new rulers by supporting separatism in the autonomous republics within Georgia: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adzharia.
This line of thinking means a failure to see the priorities of today's Russian leaders.
The first of these covers the security of the Caucasus as a whole. All the rest is of secondary importance. A Georgia in the grips of chaos, with weak authorities, as was the case under Eduard Shevardnadze, is the perfect logistic base for international terrorism, a transit route from the Middle East to Chechnya and back. This has been consistently seen in recent years.
It follows from this priority that Moscow should quite consciously advocate the territorial integrity of Georgia and not encourage separatism, which was obvious during the talks with the leaders of Georgia and its autonomous entities in Moscow this winter, a senior Russian diplomat told this RIA Novosti observer. This is our principled position not only because in Chechnya we are fighting for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Russia and hence, must adhere to the same principle with regard to other countries, but also because if separatism leads to chaos and war in Georgia, as has been the case more than once in Georgia in recent years, international terrorism will only stand to gain from this, the source went on to say.
Neither Russia nor the USA will be able to control the events in the Caucasus then and will lose, the diplomat pointed out. Accordingly, Moscow and Washington should learn to see the common nature of their interests in Georgia, and not take unilateral actions that are fraught with dangerous consequences.
Moscow had long expected Shevardnadze's resignation and knew that he would be replaced by the team that has come to power with Saakashvili. However, Russia is truly unhappy with the methods used by those who brought Mikhail Saakashvili to power. "Velvet revolutions", where the side that lost elections forces the victorious side to resign, are undemocratic and dangerous because they pave the way to further lawlessness.
It should be recalled that it was Russian diplomats who led Georgia out of the chaos that enveloped the republic in late November and threatened to escalate into a mass slaughter. Igor Ivanov managed to make the leaders of the Georgian opposition and then President Shevardnadze sit at the negotiating table, which led to the crisis being settled peacefully.
However, the events in Georgia could have developed otherwise, along Iraqi lines, with the country already sliding into complete chaos. In general, the USA should have noticed that its actions abroad often lead to a catastrophe for a country owing to its policy makers' lack of experience and idealism. These actions, not the establishment of military presence, create the biggest problems. Perhaps, the Americans need weak leaders at the helm of some countries; in Georgia, however, Moscow has had enough weak leaders and knows what they threaten.
When talking about the US military presence in Georgia, one should recall a similar situation that existed in Central Asia in the autumn of 2001. Then, the Russian leadership, led by Vladimir Putin did not object to but actively encouraged a US military presence in Central Asia, although a large part of the Russian public, especially the military, could not and still cannot believe it. The co-existence of Russian and US military bases, as is the case in Central Asia now, is a reality of new era dominated by the existence of common threats, and this does not necessarily mean that one base "counterbalances" another one.
Admittedly, Russia is holding talks on the withdrawal of its bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki, which have stalled due to the dramatic political events in Georgia this winter. However, dialogue with the new Georgian leaders is being pursued so actively - Georgian diplomats have not been more active in any other area - that this process will take its normal course sooner or later.
Returning to US-Russian co-operation in Georgia, one can note their economic interests coincide there. Moscow and Washington discussed all these issues before too and reached complete understanding on them. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which passes via Georgia, does not cause any damage to the Russian economy and needs, in particular, stability in Chechnya and the rest of the Caucasus. Russia plays a key role in providing Georgia with energy, on which there are the agreements signed by RAO UES of Russia and Gazprom with the government of the republic. These are the driving force of Georgian development. Russia's trade with it, which grew by 52.9% in the past year, plays the same role. On the whole, any investment in the Georgian economy will be profitable first of all for Russia, the country's nearest neighbour and old-time partner.
Vladimir Putin's administration, as his first presidential term has shown, is ready to establish co-operation with all countries, both CIS and non-CIS, and can see first of all, common interests, not potential differences, with them. Georgia is a case in point.