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Ilya Valeryevich Yashin

Ilya Valeryevich YashinYashin

Georgia seeks to balance East and West

After winning the Georgian parliamentary elections last October, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is gradually improving Georgia’s relation with Russia. While simultaneously ensuring close relations with NATO and the US, it seems that Ivanishvili is looking for the perfect balance between East and West. A report by Sander Degeling

After his victory in the parliamentary elections on October 1, 2012 Bidzina Ivanishvili is ready to steer Georgia’s foreign policy into a new direction. Although the new Prime Minister stated that Georgia’s foreign policy would not change drastically in the near future, it is clear that he is looking to improve relationship with its big neighbour Russia after the war in 2008. He looks convinced that his ‘calm, patient and consistent rhetoric’ is the key to tighten the bonds between the two countries. According to Ivanishvili, the tough rhetoric of the previous government the rule of Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) only brought negative results.

Example Armenia

Bidzina Ivanishvili

But the question arises: is it possible to have such close relations simultaneously with the West and with Russia? According to Ivanishvili, there will be no problem. In December, he stated neighbouring Armenia was a good example of maintaining close ties with the West and Russia. “Armenia is on excellent term with Russia and has friendly relations with while also being on excellent term with the United States and with other NATO-member states. So I think it’s possible and I believe that we will combine it,” Ivanishvili said during a visit to Yerevan in January. “Georgia will become the member of EU and NATO and next year 2013 will be the year of significantly getting closer to these goals,” Georgia’s Prime Minister said earlier.

Saakashvili’s UNM called the statement of Georgia’s prime minister ‘alarming’ and ‘dangerous’. “Armenia is our friendly state and I respect their choice, but Armenian path and its relation with Russia and NATO cannot serve as a model for Georgia; it is in conflict with Georgia’s state interests,” UNM secretary general Vano Merabishvili reacted to the statement.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

A second issue for the new government in Tbilisi is the policy towards the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In his New Years speech Ivanishvili congratulated the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: “I believe that we will find the ways leading us to each others’ hearts and we will restore relations and we will jointly take care of our future,” he said. In contrast to the previous government, the Georgian Dream leader is searching for a softer approach towards the breakaway provinces. Ivanishvili believes in the outcome of a united Georgia. But before reaching this goal, three essential steps need to be taken. “Firstly - and it is decisive - we should become a democratic state, based on rule of law, an attractive state for Abkhazians and Ossetians. The second: concurrence in interests with Russia. The third: advantageous international situation and more support from the democratic states. Combination of these three components is a key to resolving the problem,” Ivanishvili said during his election campaign.

Reopening the railway?


Tbilisi’s new approach could lead to the reopening of the railway that connects Armenia with Russia through breakaway Abkhazia. In Yerevan, Ivanishvili said that the restoration of the railway link was ‘possible’ but complicated. However, the Prime Minister pronounced that the Georgian side is ready to solve the issues as soon as possible. Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab said on January 18, 2013 that no one has approached Sokhumi on the issue, but “concrete proposals will be discussed between the different parties.”

Saakashvili’s UNM reacted that the opening of the railway link through Abkhazia is in Russia’s interest. The issue should be discussed as a part of de-occupation talks. Otherwise it would be a ‘criminal, anti-state, anti-Georgian act’, Saakashvili said during a press conference in Tbilisi on January 17, 2013.

Towards stability

So far, it seems like the new Georgian government is trying to balance maintaining relations with the West and Russia. Besides the goal of NATO and EU-integration, Tbilisi is gradually looking for rapprochement with its big neighbour. The restoration of bilateral relations is a step in the right direction for normalizing the bonds between the two countries. However, the scars of the past will not disappear within a small period of time. The new open and more pragmatic approach by the Ivanishvili-government should ultimately lead to diplomatic talks over the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity.