Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Restrictive measures against the leadership of the Transnistrian region

The Council today adopted a decision concerning restrictive measures (visa ban)against the Transnistrian leadership (13623/10).

The decision extends the restrictive measures until 30 September 2011. It also extends the suspension of the measures for a further period of 6 months (until 31 March 2011), in order to encourage progress in reaching a political settlement to the Transnistrian conflict, addressing the remaining problems of the Latin-script schools and restoring free movement of persons.

At the end of the suspension period, the Council will review the restrictive measures in the light of developments.

The EU is committed to continue its efforts in order to contribute to a viable settlement of the Transnistria conflict, based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. It also re-affirms its call for a resumption of formal settlement talks in the 5+2 format as early as possible.

Source: Council of the EU. Published in Brussels on 27 September 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EU Special Representative for Moldova addresses OSCE Permanent Council, urges restart of formal '5+2' Transdniestria negotiations ahead of Summit

Kalman Mizsei, the European Union Special Representative for Moldova, addressed the OSCE Permanent Council today, calling for a restart of formal "5+2" negotiations on the Transdniestrian conflict by the OSCE Summit in December.

The OSCE and the EU are part of the 5+2 process for settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict, which includes the sides (the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria); the mediators (the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE); and the United States and the EU as observers.

"The resolution of frozen conflicts in the OSCE area represents a priority for all participating States in order to strengthen security in Europe. Resumption of official negotiations in the 5+2 format by the upcoming OSCE summit would represent a success for Europe as a whole," said Mizsei. "The launch of formal negotiations in the 5+2 format will show the clear commitment and seriousness of all participants for dialogue and co-operation in identifying a comprehensive, long-lasting and durable solution to the conflict."

"We are convinced that it is in the best interest of Transdniestria to immediately capitalize on the positive atmosphere that has been created this year and engage in official talks."

Mizsei said he recognized the relentless and good efforts of the Kazakh Chairmanship to achieve the resumption of the official 5+2 negotiations.

He added: "The European Union is striving for a solution that is equitable and balanced, that will promote lasting security in the region and that will lay the groundwork for prosperity on both banks of the Dniestr/Nistru River. I hope that in the upcoming period that we will have the wisdom of informed self-interest and also the courage and responsibility to do the possible, solving a conflict that is eminently solvable."

Mizsei also addressed EU-Moldova relations, the EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine, and internal developments, including Moldova's planned early parliamentary elections in November.

The mediators and observers, including the EU Special Representative, visited Moldova from 20 to 22 September and met the leaders, political negotiators and other senior officials on both sides and the chairs of the joint experts working groups on confidence-building measures. The next informal 5+2 meeting will take place in Vienna on 27 and 28 September.

The Permanent Council is a main decision-making body of the 56-country OSCE. It meets weekly in Vienna to discuss developments in the OSCE area and to make appropriate decisions.

Source: OSCE. Published in Vienna on 23 September 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Commission welcomes Ukraine in Energy Community

The European Commission has today welcomed Ukraine joining the European Energy Community. The Community extends the EU internal energy market to South East Europe and enhances the overall security of supply. The Protocol on the Accession of Ukraine to the Energy Community was signed today at the Energy Community Ministerial Council in Skopije (Macedonia).

G√ľnther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Energy said: "This is a major step both for the Energy Community and for Ukraine. Ukraine will have access to a pan-European energy market, based on the principles of solidarity and transparency. For the Community, Ukraine is an important new member and security of supply further improved."

The accession Protocol was signed today by Mr. Yuriy Boyko, Minister of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine, and Mr. Fatmir Besimi, Minister of Economy of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, acting for the Presidency of the Energy Community. The Vice-Presidency (European Union) was represented by Mr. Fabrizio Barbaso, Deputy Director-General for Energy at the European Commission.

The Ministerial Council of the Energy Community had approved the accession of Ukraine in December 2009, but the signature of the Accession Protocol was made subject to the adoption of a gas law in compliance with EU relevant rules. Today's signature follows the enactment of the new Ukrainian gas law last July. The Ukrainian Parliament is now expected to ratify the Treaty establishing the Energy Community, after which Ukraine will become a member of this international organisation

Background:

The Energy Community entered into force on 1 July 2006. The parties have committed themselves to liberalise their energy markets and implement key EU legal acts in the area of electricity, gas, environment and renewable energy. The secretariat in Vienna monitors and assists in the implementation process. Full Members are: The European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and Modova. Observer Status: Georgia, Norway and Turkey.

http://www.energy-community.org/portal/page/portal/ENC_HOME

Source: European Commission. Published in brussels, 24 September 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Does ‘Confederation’ Mean In The South Caucasus?


On July 18, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, in Batumi and mentioned the idea of a “confederation” between the two countries. The phrase quickly got people wondering what exactly the president had in mind. Analysts have been raising questions and offering ideas ever since.

Journalists and political commentators from the countries of the South Caucasus have examined the idea (whether they endorse it or not) in the context of confrontational geopolitics. In August, Russia and Armenia agreed to extend the pact on the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia until 2044. At the same time, they expanded the format of bilateral military cooperation: henceforth Russia is obliged to defend Armenia from any external threat, which Yerevan expects primarily from Azerbaijan. In short, Armenia has become an even closer Russian ally than it was previously.

The discussion of a possible Georgia-Azerbaijan confederation was immediately placed in the traditional context of the “vertical” axis of Russia-Armenia (and, possibly, Iran) and the “horizontal” axis of Georgia and Azerbaijan (and, possibly, Turkey). And they don’t forget overseas allies, asserting that, of course, the idea of a confederation comes from Washington and is aimed at containing Russia. In a nutshell, after the failed Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, everything has come back to its place: we loved to talk about all these things back in the 1990s.

But what concrete political and legal steps would be necessary to realize this “confederation” project? I haven’t heard anything specific about this yet.

First, let’s take a look at exactly what Saakashvili said, some two months ago. “A few years back I said that we must form confederative relations,” Saakashvili said. “In fact, relations between our countries are far beyond the relations that two countries ordinarily have. We are a continuation of one another.”

In short, the Georgia-Azerbaijan confederation, according to the president, is not a project for the future, but a description of the present. That is, the term shouldn’t be viewed in strictly legalistic terms, but as a rhetorical figure of speech that signifies “particularly close relations between countries.”

What’s more, people in the president’s entourage insist that the same could be said of Georgia-Armenia relations: there as well, the level of closeness is very high. Of course, the Armenian side welcomes the use of this term (even rhetorically) considerably less.

To be sure, it would be hypocritical to speak about an equivalence between Georgia-Azerbaijan and Georgia-Armenia relations. Under the circumstances of the cold war with Russia, Georgia can’t be pleased by the intensification of Russia-Armenia military cooperation. There’s no getting around that.

Enemies And Friends

Nonetheless, neither Georgia nor Armenia would benefit from drawing strict geopolitical conclusions from the two clear facts that Russia and Georgia are enemies, while Russia and Armenia are allies. Likewise, Russia and Azerbaijan do not intend to become enemies just because Azerbaijan and Armenia are enemies and Armenia and Russia are allies. The geopolitical formula that the “friend of my enemy is my enemy” does not apply in the Caucasus today. And thank God.

Since the August 2008 war with Russia, Georgia has placed more significance on regional relations and has actively sought to intensify ties with all the countries of the region without regard for their relations with one another. There is an element of competition with Russia in this. Russia’s policy of not recognizing the Saakashvili government is an effort to isolate Georgia internationally. Moscow wants not only to undermine Tbilisi’s support in the West, but also to exclude Georgia from regional connections.

Saakashvili is taking countermeasures, so far generally with success. Of course, one can always argue about what “success” means, but under the present circumstances Georgia views any sign of warming relations with the countries of the region as a success - and, at the same time, as a failure for Russia.

Russia is actively working to draw Azerbaijan into its sphere of influence with various economic projects. While Turkey and Armenia were flirting under Western patronage and Azerbaijan felt forgotten and rejected by its closest friends -- Ankara and Washington -- it seemed that some sort of geopolitical shift was possible. But the accelerated construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and new steps toward realizing the Nabucco pipeline project show that the Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey axis of cooperation is still functioning. It is such projects most of all that are the real content of the rhetorical term “confederation.”

But, on the other hand, the opening in March of the Russia-Georgia border crossing at Verkhny Lars is not a sign of the warming of Russian-Georgian relations (as Western experts want to believe). It is an expression of Armenia-Georgia cooperation, since that road is needed most of all by Armenia. What difference does it make whether such a friendship is or is not called a “confederation”?


By Ghia Nodia. Published on 17 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/What_Does_Confederation_Mean_In_The_South_Caucasus/2160662.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Waving The Banner Of Azerbaijan's New Oil Boom

Winston Churchill once said that "If oil is a queen, then Baku is her throne." Azerbaijan's oil wealth has a long and storied history. But its oil industry was born in the late 19th century. Initially dominated by British, Dutch, Swedish, and Russian companies, it later became a center of Soviet might. Azerbaijani oil fuelled Soviet tanks and aircraft during World War II and sated the domestic needs of the Soviet Union for decades.

Today, however, 20 years after Azerbaijan gained its independence, the country is experiencing a second oil boom. Only this time, Azerbaijan is in charge of its natural resources, and Azerbaijani citizens are reaping the benefits.

Oil To Education

The foundation of this boom was laid in 1994 when, despite resistance from many quarters Azerbaijan, managed to sign the "contract of the century" with leading oil companies. This document enabled the start of construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline in 2000.

This second oil boom has changed the geopolitical and geoeconomic situation in the South Caucasus. After the (BTC) oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline was laid. Now the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which will link China and Paris, is under construction. In terms of geopolitics, these projects open new opportunities for Euro-Atlantic integration. In terms of geoeconomics, they strengthen globalization, bringing continents closer and improving Europe's energy security.

The South Caucasus region has been engulfed in the flames of ethno-political confrontation and interstate conflict for the past 20 years. Foreign-policy clashes can easily sink economic stability. Development policies in such a complex geopolitical situation, even with the help of petrodollars, do not always yield positive results.

It is important for Azerbaijan to transform its "black gold" into intellectual potential. Therefore, 5,000 young Azerbaijanis will be sent to study abroad between now and 2015 under a decree by President Ilham Aliyev. Public democratization and economic transformation begin with public awareness, and this understanding shapes the agenda of Azerbaijan's government.

Building democracy is a gradual process, and it must be considered in parallel with political and economic reforms. Former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's statement that "misery and freedom are incompatible" sums up the challenge that Azerbaijan faced a decade ago. Over recent years, a great deal of effort and energy has gone into making the Azerbaijani citizen financially independent.

'Neo-Azerbaijanism'

The country has been strengthened economically. In the past six to seven years, the poverty rate has been brought down from 49 percent to 11 percent. More than 900,000 new jobs have been created, 600,000 of them permanent. And some 5,000 new enterprises have started up.

Azerbaijan does not spend its petrodollars on increasing wages or social benefits that could lead to serious inflationary consequences. In the nearest future, Azerbaijan will become an international aid donor.

This is just a short list of the prospects that have been opened up by the second oil boom. These are not just words, but a record of real action.

Recently, the world's biggest flag (70 by 35 meters) was raised on the world's tallest unsupported flagpole (162 meters) in Baku. This is not only a sign of our economic strength, which allows us to implement such projects. This is neo-Azerbaijanism, which is present in the country's new politics, economy, and socio-cultural life. The world's tallest flagpole symbolizes a new understanding of the inner spirit and power of our national identity and a reassessment of Azerbaijan's place in the global context. Today it is clear that we are no longer just a bridge. From now on, we are a center of regional politics -- and this will form the basis of Azerbaijan's foreign policy for the coming decades.



By Elnur Aslanov. Published on 16 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/Commentary_Waving_The_Banner_Of_Azerbaijans_New_Oil_Boom/2159588.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Armenian Opposition Tells Election Experts It's Dissatisfied With Reforms

Armenia's leading opposition forces told European election experts that they remain adamant in dismissing electoral reforms promised by President Serzh Sarkisian's governing coalition, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Representatives from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the Armenian National Congress (HAK), and Heritage Party (Zharangutyun) told officials from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in separate meetings on September 14 that the government draft on reforming elections would not address chronic vote-rigging in Armenia.

The election experts were on the first day of a fact-finding visit to Yerevan. The visit is aimed at assessing the Armenian authorities' stated efforts to improve the conduct of elections in the country.

Armen Martirosian of the Heritage Party told RFE/RL that the authorities would retain "numerous opportunities for carrying out vote falsifications."

"This gives us no hope that the authorities are preparing to hold normal elections," he said.

Armenian authorities have pledged to improve the conduct of elections in the country, along with other political reforms, under pressure from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).

The pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament has already drafted fresh amendments to the electoral code and submitted them to another Council of Europe institution, the Venice Commission, for examination.

Dashnaktsutyun's Artyusha Shahbazian said he and other deputies from his party urged the two European bodies to help ensure that an alternative electoral reform package jointly drafted by Dashnaktsutyun is not being ignored by the ruling coalition.

The opposition package was sent to the Venice Commission this summer. "They have received our proposals and said they are still looking into them," Martirosian said.

The HAK, which is not in parliament, presented the visiting experts with a separate seven-point plan of electoral reform, according to Vladimir Karapetian, a senior member of the opposition alliance. Karapetian declined to disclose changes sought by the HAK, saying only that they are "mainly of a technical nature."

"We believe that by accepting the proposals made by the opposition and international organizations, the authorities will show whether they have the political will to change the conduct of elections," Karapetian told RFE/RL.


By RFE/RL. Published on 16 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/Armenian_Opposition_Tells_Election_Experts_Its_Dissatisfied_With_Reforms/2159516.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Statement by Herman VAN ROMPUY, President of the European Council, following his meeting with Viktor YANUKOVYCH, President of Ukraine


"I am pleased to welcome President Yanukovych back to Brussels. Our regular meetings demonstrate the continued dynamism of the EU - Ukraine relationship.

We have continued our discussion on issues of fundamental importance for the EU - Ukraine relationship, ranging from the status of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, through a broad range of reforms.

Ukraine is seeing a period of political stability, based on a strong parliamentary majority. This enables Ukraine to move forward with important reforms. The agreement found between Ukraine and the IMF on a new Stand-by Arrangement demonstrates the government's willingness to find solutions. Fulfilment of the criteria of the Stand by Arrangement will enable the EU to move forward with the disbursement of our Macro-financial Assistance to Ukraine.

With Ukraine moving forward in her reform process, the EU stands by her side, to support and assist with both advice and financial resources.

Ukraine is a European country, and we share basic core values, on which we build our societies. Democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights are the core values we share and strive to implement in practice. We also discussed the importance of guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media.

Over the past years, Ukraine has received considerable respect for the consolidation of democracy and the freedom of speech. Ukraine's legacy as an open society is an important one, and needs to be further built upon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PACE committee welcomes ‘political will’ for ambitious reform in Ukraine, but warns that democratic principles need to be respected


The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has welcomed the political will being shown by the new government in Ukraine for an “ambitious and far-reaching package of reforms” – but warned that they were being implemented in a hasty manner.

In a draft resolution unanimously approved yesterday at a meeting in Paris, the committee said the reforms needed “wide political consensus and public support”, which in turn was only possible if parliamentary procedures and democratic principles were strictly respected.

For the reforms to be successful, government and opposition should also jointly implement constitutional changes first, the committee declared. “Lasting political stability” in Ukraine required a clear separation of powers, as well as a proper system of checks and balances between the executive, legislature and judiciary.

The parliamentarians also expressed their serious concern at allegations that democratic freedoms – such as freedom of assembly, expression and the media – have come under pressure in recent months. “Any regression in respect for and protection of these rights would be unacceptable for the Assembly,” they said.

The co-rapporteurs, Renate Wohlwend (Liechtenstein, EPP/CD) and Mailis Reps (Estonia, ALDE), intend to return to Ukraine in the near future to discuss their findings and conclusions with the authorities and other relevant parties, if possible before the Assembly debates the report at its forthcoming plenary session (4-8 October 2010).

Source: PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 10 September 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

OSCE Mission to Moldova holds roundtable discussion on gender equality in politics and the economy

How politics and economic growth benefit from greater participation by women, including in times of economic crisis, was the focus of a roundtable discussion held by the OSCE Mission to Moldova in Chisinau today.

"Moldova could gain substantively from using the economic and political potential of its entire population, especially in times of economic crisis," said Ambassador Philip Remler, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova. "The financial crisis has hit people very hard - including women. We hope that today's recommendations will help political and economic leaders take advantage of women's potential for the benefit of Moldova."

Experts from Austria, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Sweden and Ukraine shared best practices and lessons learned on how political leaders and the electorate can benefit from a focus on women's role in political and economic life. The discussions highlighted the contribution of gender equality to economic growth, the impact of quota and non-quota mechanisms, the key role of women leaders and associations in promoting women's participation in politics, and how the media can have a greater impact by promoting women.

A large number of participants, including Members of Parliament and government officials, female political and business leaders and representatives of political parties, civil society organizations, media and international organizations attended the event. The roundtable discussion resulted in recommendations to help Moldovan leaders and civil society better strive for gender equality in the political and economic fields.

The event was part of the OSCE Mission to Moldova's Anti-Trafficking and Gender Programme.

Source: OSCE. Published on 9 September 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is Armenia Russia's Partner Or Pawn?


Two years after the brief but destructive war between Russia and Georgia, Moscow has further consolidated its power and influence in the South Caucasus by concluding a modified defense agreement with Armenia that significantly extends the lease for Russia's largest military base in the region.

Most small states are compelled to look to large powers for security, and Armenia is no exception. For a small country like Armenia, which is doubly landlocked -- with no outlet to the sea and with two of its four borders closed -- security concerns are paramount to national survival.

In large part reflecting this reality, Armenia has been driven ever closer to Russia. In the broader context, Armenia's embrace of Russia comes as no real surprise. But the Armenian-Russian "strategic partnership," as hailed by Armenian officials, has become defined more by a dangerous degree of Armenian overdependence than by an equitable alliance. And Russian dominance over Armenia has only increased in recent years, as Moscow has acquired outright control over many strategic sectors of the Armenian economy, from energy to transport.

The asymmetry of the Armenian-Russian relationship was most recently evident in the signing of a modified security accord during a visit to Armenia by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Signed on August 20, the agreement is seriously flawed, however, and has sparked criticism within Armenia for four main reasons.

First, the terms of the newly modified basing agreement are both unusual and questionable. The agreement resulted in the extension of Russia's sole military base in the region by another 24 years, to 2044.

The initial agreement, signed in 1995, granted Russia the right to maintain its military base at Armenia's second-largest city, Gyumri, along the Armenian-Turkish border, and was not due to expire until 2020. Despite the stationing of a small squadron of MiG-29 aircraft and S-300 missile-defense systems at the base, the facility is rather insignificant in purely military terms, with its roughly 3,000 Russian personnel mainly serving as a "trip-wire" to any attack from NATO-member Turkey.

Moreover, both the military posture of the Russian presence and the mission and mandate of the base are based on "threat misperception," reflecting an outdated and now inappropriate Soviet-era doctrine.

Nevertheless, the Russian base in Armenia provides a firm foothold for the Russian presence and offers Moscow an attractive potential platform for power projection. But it satisfies Russian interests that only happen to coincide with Armenia's perception of insecurity.

But perhaps most insulting for Armenia, the base is the only such facility where the host country not only foregoes any form of rent or payment but has agreed also to pay all operational costs and expenses of the facility. While other countries, such as Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, receive lucrative annual payments in return for hosting Russian military facilities, Armenia is a clear loser.

Second, the modified Armenian-Russian defense accord offers Armenia little in the way of any clear military advantage. Despite the agreement's formal declaration to "ensure the security" of Armenia and promises to provide "modern compatible weaponry and special military hardware" in the future, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly admitted there would be "no real or functional change" to the mission or mandate for the Russian base.

Speaking in an interview on Armenian television prior to the signing of the agreement, Lavrov also dismissed Armenian concerns over the pending sale of S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan by noting that they are "defensive weapons designed to protect a territory from external missiles," adding that Moscow would "never supply arms to regions where such supplies may destabilize the region."

Beyond such vague pledges of support in the event of attack, this Russian security pledge does not bolster Armenian security in any concrete sense. If anything, it only reinforces the impression that Armenia has been steadily mortgaging its own national security in return for short-term and meager returns.

The agreement has been defended by Armenian officials as providing an important deterrent to Azerbaijan, which Armenia accuses of launching two military attacks in recent months, beginning with a successful probe of Armenian defensive positions along the Line of Contact separating Nagorno-Karabakh from the rest of Azerbaijan. The most recent skirmish, an August 31 assault by Azerbaijani forces that was successfully repelled, demonstrates that the accord does little to deter Azerbaijan from considering the use of military force to "resolve" the Karabakh issue. In fact, this third problem with the Armenian-Russian security agreement centers on a flawed premise -- that it provides greater security for Armenia.

A fourth shortcoming in the agreement stems from its broader implications for Armenian statehood. The agreement is widely seen as yet another dilution of Armenian independence and sovereignty, especially as the accord may also expand the role of the approximately 2,000 Russian border troops in Armenia. Since the onset of independence, it has actually been Russian border troops that have secured Armenia's border with Turkey.

And this latest agreement may deal a further blow to Armenian sovereignty by deploying additional Russian border guards to Armenia's other borders, with Iran and Georgia, if not Azerbaijan. A Soviet-era legacy, yes, but it is clearly also a liability for any independent state.


By Richard Giragosian. Published on 3 September 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/Commentary_Is_Armenia_Russias_Partner_Or_Pawn/2147689.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Is There A Foundation For Peace Between Russia And Georgia?

The director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Dmitri Trenin, recently published his proposal for a peace agreement between Russia and Georgia. According to his article, a logical (and possible) solution to the standoff consists of two parts.

First, Georgia should recognize Abkhazia's independence in exchange for the return of the Gali district (which is almost entirely populated by ethnic Georgians).

Second, Russia should withdraw from South Ossetia in exchange for some sort of intermediate status for that region between independence and Georgian control, with a special security role for Russia.

The obstacle to this plan, according to Trenin, is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili -- first, because he is bad and, second, because Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have sworn not to negotiate with him and they are not going to go back on their word. But if Saakashvili leaves office in 2013 and does not become prime minister, then such a solution could be possible.

Theoretically, all this is possible. If one proceeds from the idea that returning Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia is impossible (because Russia will never allow it and because the people who live there don't want it), then compared to the present situation, such a solution would be better for Georgia. It is all quite rational.

So what's the problem? Is it just Saakashvili?

It is obvious, but true, that in order to reach a peace settlement, all sides have to really want to. It has to be the top priority for everyone, particularly if reaching an agreement means makes painful concessions. It is hard for me to imagine any Georgian leader who could survive politically after making such a decision. The alternative would have to be very bad and the dividends would have to be enormous.

Under what circumstances would the parties want to make such serious concessions?

An anonymous commentator posting a comment on Trenin's "The Moscow Times" article asked a good question: "What do we need peace with Georgia for anyway? Why should we give South Ossetia back?"

And it's true that it would be extremely illogical for the Russia that invaded Georgia in August 2008 to endorse Trenin's plan. The basic idea of the war was the conviction that the West is Russia's enemy and Georgia is a Trojan horse in Russia's backyard. Georgia and its foreign protectors had to be taught a lesson and shown who is the boss in the "near abroad."

Two Russias

They didn't quite manage to get this lesson across, since Saakashvili is still in power and continues to stubbornly pursue his policies. So what is the point of making life easier for him by normalizing relations? The worse things are for (a pro-Western) Georgia, the better they are for Russia.

Trenin, working for an American center in Moscow and writing in an English-language newspaper in the capital, is proceeding from a different view of Russia. The Russia that Trenin imagines (as do some Western analysts and politicians) might be provisionally called "Medvedev's Russia" (as opposed to the real "Putin's Russia"). This Russia, on the one hand, has not rejected its claims to great-power status (which in practice means demanding a privileged role in, at the least, the "near abroad").

But, on the other hand, this Russia has ceased to consider the West an enemy and, on the contrary, wants to establish a "modernization alliance" with it. No one knows exactly what this means, but the practical implication for the West is clear: It must strengthen Medvedev -- or, at the least, it must not do anything to weaken him. This Russia won't become a democracy but at least it will be more rational and predictable. It will be a Russia one can do business with. Such a Russia really does need to improve relations with Georgia (of course, after "Crazy Misha" leaves office) in order to remove the most serious source of disagreement with the West.

As far as Georgia is concerned, of course it is better to have good relations with Russia than bad ones. But the practical question is this: What concrete concessions would have to be made in order to "buy" better relations with Russia (the Russia that really exists, not the one that is imagined by Russian and Western Medvedevites), and what concrete dividends can Tbilisi hope to receive?

In order even to begin thinking about possible solutions, one must first imagine a Russia that is capable of genuinely recognizing Georgia's right to choose its own government and its own political course. But no such Russia is anywhere in sight. The very fact that Moscow refuses to talk to Saakashvili proves that Moscow believes Georgians do not have the right to choose their own government.

That is why projects like Trenin's are only theoretically interesting. Today's Russia and today's Georgia have no need for them.


By Ghia Nodia. Published on 31 August 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/Is_There_A_Foundation_For_Peace_Between_Russia_And_Georgia/2144230.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.