Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said prior to his Moscow visit that he wanted to make friends with the Russian leader. According to him, he succeeded. President Saakashvili was impressed by how easily he found a common language with Vladimir Putin. What surprised him even more was that he did not feel a hint of "imperial hegemonism, which used to be part of Russia's foreign policy."
This is how the visit was presented to the media. But what agreements did the two presidents reach?
They both said the most important agreements were reached in the security sphere, particularly co-ordination of actions against terrorism. Moscow found President Saakashvili's proposal that Georgia and Russia should jointly patrol their common border interesting.
If this effort is a success, Russia will consider softening the visa regime. Russia unilaterally introduced visas in December 2000 on the grounds that Georgia was not ready to reach understanding on ensuring security on the Russo-Georgian border.
The sides also agreed to discuss the parameters of military co-operation, particularly the possibility of training Georgian soldiers at Russian military institutes. President Saakashvili said the first group of Georgian officers would arrive in Moscow for this purpose in the near future.
As to the most sensitive issue in bilateral relations, i.e. the timeframe for the withdrawal of Russia's military bases from Georgia, President Saakashvili said the process must proceed in line with the agreements adopted at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul. Moscow is not bargaining for better conditions. Moreover, it has fulfilled some of its Istanbul obligations ahead of schedule. Russia has pulled out the bases from Vaziani and Gudauta, but the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases remain.
When speaking to students and staff at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations ahead of his talks with President Putin, the Georgian leader said he was not demanding the immediate withdrawal of the bases. However, in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station, President Saakashvili said the earlier the bases were withdrawn the better. Anyway, Moscow did not say when exactly the withdrawal would take place. This problem will, apparently, continue to dominate the bilateral agenda.
This was not an unexpected development. However, President Saakashvili made a very important statement at his final press conference in Moscow to the effect that the problem would not interfere with the development of Russo-Georgian relations. This can be seen as the visit's key result.
In addition, President Saakashvili made yet another important point: Moscow should not treat Georgia's actions in the security sphere as infringement on Russia's interests. He repeatedly stated that the Russian bases would not be replaced by any foreign, even American, military ones. Although declarations of this kind do not mean guarantees, they do carry political weight.
The president is taking a realistic view of his country's prospects. He continuously reiterates that no country can equal Russia in terms of influence in Georgia. He also says that no other country can ensure Georgia's security better than Russia. Moreover, the Russian market is the closest to Georgia and it is the only available option for Georgian products. Moreover, Georgia is interested in Russian investment and electricity supplies.
Although Georgia owes Russia more than $160 million for the supplied energy products, Russia is continuing to supply it with electricity and natural gas. Moreover, the two countries are going to step up co-operation in this sphere.
This falls in line with Russia's policy toward its Commonwealth of Independent States partners. Moscow wants the CIS countries to voluntarily recognise its leadership, which is based on economic and social successes. The first steps in this direction have already been taken.
Tbilisi also admits that Russia's active mediation is vital for settling the Abkhazia problem. Georgia has agreed to carry on talks on the problem proceeding from the decisions taken at the Russo-Georgian summit, which took place in Sochi in 2003 and involved Abkhaz officials. The countries involved resolved to work to ensure refugees' return to Abkhazia's Gali district, restore rail traffic via Abkhazia and modernise the Inguri hydroelectric power station.
President Saakashvili believes 2004 will see energetic steps being taken with regard to Abkhazia. However, a breakthrough will, apparently, only come after a change of power in Abkhazia. In any event, the involved countries' actions must be peaceful and predictable, something which was reiterated in Moscow.
The Moscow meetings resolved to revive the bilateral inter-government commission on trade and economic co-operation. Russia also wants to resume drafting the bilateral framework treaty. President Saakashvili said at the final press conference that the treaty would hopefully be signed this autumn when the Russian leader is expected to visit Tbilisi.
Moscow has not confirmed the date for signing the treaty and the president's visit to Tbilisi. It is, apparently, waiting for Georgia to substantiate Mr Saakashvili's friendly words in relation to Moscow with actions. So far, the Georgian leader claims that Russia will dominate Georgia's foreign policy agenda.