October 10, 2010


Georgia threatens to prevent Russia from joining WTO


Georgian Prime Minister Nikolaz Gilauri has said that his country will insist on a Russian troop withdrawal from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and on ensuring Georgian frontier-guards’ access to the two republics’ territory as the main condition for Russia’s joining the World Trade Organization.   
Some observers believe that Georgia’s demands may complicate relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, and prove the only remaining barrier in the way of Russia’s joining the WTO. The latest statements by the Georgian Prime Minister are clear evidence that officials in Tbilisi are not about to forget the fact that Russia came to the rescue of the people of South Ossetia in August 2008 and actually saved the Caucasus nation from extermination by the Georgian aggressors. No one in the West, or elsewhere, doubts the fact any more. But the Georgian authorities will not look truth in the eye, but will seek instead to plague Russia whenever possible. Now the occasion is Russia’s effort to join the WTO.     
But Tbilisi seems to be barking up the wrong tree. Georgian officials seem to have forgotten that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been independent states for two years now, so it is not for Moscow or Tbilisi to decide whether Georgian border-guards should be allowed into Abkhaz or South Ossetian territory. Tbilisi should obviously consult Sukhum and Tskhinval on the issue. Also, Russian troops in the two fledgling republics have been deployed there at the request of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments, so it is for these governments to decide just how long the Russian troops will remain stationed there.   
One should point out that even Georgian experts concede that Tbilisi’s demands are too tough and peremptory. Georgian political analyst and economist of the Club of Independent Experts Gia Khukhashvili describes Georgia’s stand on the issue as too tough and says he does not believe in a quiet solution to the conflict. He feels Tbilisi risks losing all of its trump cards in the negotiating process and getting nothing in return. If Georgia’s WTO partners bring pressure to bear on Georgia, Tbilisi will have to agree to Russia’s membership. So I think it is not really serious to throw solutions to all of Georgia’s major problems onto scales, the political analyst says. But then, Tbilisi may still count on support from the West as regards the issue.

If so, it is certainly making a blunder, for those who have been carefully watching the evolution of relations between Georgia and the West couldn’t help but notice that the Untied States, as well as Europe have been recently reconsidering their attitude towards President Saakashvili. It is obvious that Washington and Brussels have grown cool towards the developments in Georgia and have deemed Mr. Saakashvili’s political career a lost cause. One graphic example actually proves this to be the case. A US delegation involving the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Batumi recently to attend a symposium on Russia and the Black Sea Region. Ms Rice originally planned to pay a visit to Tbilisi, but thought better of it, and left for Ireland once the forum drew to a close.  
Yet another piece of evidence is the just-published report by the EU Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, specifically the part of it where the author points out that Georgia fails to redeem its pledges concerning human rights in the republic. So, perhaps, Tbilisi would do better by focusing on its domestic problems, rather than erecting barriers in the way of Russia’s membership in the WTO and interfering in the internal affairs of the sovereign states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if only in the field of human rights observance?