Daily Israel Report

3 Years After the War, Chill Persists Between Russia and Georgia

Once friendly, Russia and Georgia remain with daggers drawn.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/16/2011, 4:18 PM

Relations between Russia and Georgia have remained chilly and strained three years after the five-day war over South Ossetia.

The bitterness between the two countries is somewhat of a surprise in view of the fact that back in days of the USSR, the Georgians were considered a loyal nation trusted with the self-administration of their republic. This went back historically to the time that the Christian Georgians viewed the Russians as a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim nations in the Caucasus.

When Mikhail Gorbachev attempted his liberalization, one symbolic step was to appoint Eduards Shevarnadze as Soviet Foreign Minister ,in an attempt to show that non-Russian nationalities could achieve a place of prominence in the regime.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia declared its independence. Shevarnadze himself served as a Georgian leader till he was ousted in the Rose Revolution that brought in Mikhail Saakashviili.

Shevarnadze is urging his country to patch up differences with Russia in the belief that Georgia cannot do without Russia, but he does not foresee an improvement in the near future. Ironically, Shevarnadze places his hopes on the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia, since the current president Dmitry Medvedev has refused to negotiate with Saakashvili. 

Considering that Putin once threatened publically to hang Saakashvili from organs in the lower part of his body and reputedly announced his intentions to make the two breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the equivalent of Turkish Northern Cyprus, it is hard to fathom the basis for Shevarnadze's optimism.

In the meantime he is right about the attitude of Dmitry Medvedev, who spoke of Saakshvili's "inflamed brain" that led him to start the war in 2008. Since he contends that the Georgian leader  should be placed before an international tribunal, he will not negotiate with him.

Dmitry Medvedev has struck a belligerent tone on the anniversary of the war and has decorated some of the soldiers who participated in it. The Russians accused the Georgians of genocide against the South Ossetians as the impetus prompting Russian intervention. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to the Georgian president as a pathological case who was badly brought up.

The liberal Moscow Times reacted to Medvedev's posturing by printing a cartoon displaying the Russian president in full dress uniform mounted on a wooden rocking horse.

It also balanced the picture by recounting the Russian provocations that preceded the war. Russia had set up military bases in the breakaway provinces and had staged bomb and missile attacks on the Georgian town of Gori. Russia had banned Georgian wine and mineral water, prohibited flights between the two countries and deported Georgian citizens.

Saakashvili responded sarcastically to the interview in which Medvedev attacked him. "A few days ago I saw on TV the President of a country which is a hundred-fold larger than [Georgia]," he said and "sympathized" with Dmitry Medvedev's "limited powers" ( intimating that Medvedev was merely a puppet of Vladimir Putin), while asking why the leader of such a huge country would be so preoccupied with the President of Georgia...