On September 1st, 2021, Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, discussed the prominent issues of contemporary international politics at the new academic year opening ceremony at MGIMO. During one of his comments, Lavrov touched upon Georgian-Russian relations and proclaimed that if Georgians stop playing the “Russian Card” in favour of its Western partners, the Russian side would be more than happy to restore the relations with Georgia any time.
Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia: “If Georgia does not want to play the ‘Russian Card’ to maintain Western patronage, but wants to live normally with us as a neighbour, we are ready for that any time.”
The statement of Lavrov was also addressed by Kelly Degnan, the US ambassador to Georgia, underscoring the fact that similar statements of Russia would remain irrelevant until Georgians see concrete actions towards the occupied territories.
Kelly Degnan, US Ambassador to Georgia: “Georgians have heard these statements from the Kremlin many times. They would have a lot more credibility if it was followed up by actually withdrawing from Georgia’s occupied territories and reversing the recognition of Tskhinvali and Abkhazia and actually following through on the obligations that Russia committed to in 2008. I haven’t seen any step toward that, in fact, there is still a flight ban, and there are still restrictions on markets. So, it seems to me that until Georgians see some credible moves, concrete moves forward in these areas regarding the occupied territories, the statements that come from Kremlin don’t carry a lot of weight.”
Kelly Degnan's statement was followed by similar messages from Kremlin and anti-Western actors, namely:
- The formula - first de-occupation, then dialogue is unacceptable
- The West is not interested in resolving the conflict, or the direct dialogue with Russia
The formula - first de-occupation, then dialogue is unacceptable:
Dimitri Lortkipanidze, Primakov Georgia-Russian Public Center: "We should, by no means, follow the destructive 'advice’ of the West - first de-occupation and then dialogue. No, dialogue is necessary to restore territorial integrity, and whoever tells us otherwise, they simply do not want it to happen…"
The West is not interested in resolving the conflict, or the direct dialogue with Russia
Irma Inashvili, Alliance of Patriots: “... When Russia made a very positive statement about cooperation ... Who responded to it first? Look at this; it was the US Ambassador to Georgia. And only after, the top Georgian political officials followed her as punished children! School students! ”
Guram Nikolaishvili, Alliance of Patriots: “Isn’t this a violation of sovereignty when you give instructions to the Georgian government or the parliament on which political position to take? Telling them that they should refuse dialogue with Russia?"
Dimitri Lortkipanidze, Primakov Georgia-Russian Public Center: “It is much more comfortable for the U.S. to see Georgia as a zone of constant tension and confrontation than to have a real constructive dialogue with Russia...”
"The Americans have praqctically responded to Moscow instead of us and told them that Georgia is not and will not be ready for a direct dialogue with Russia."
Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, Eurasia Institute: “Degnan is provocative. Her statement reveals a concern that the ice between Georgia and Russia could melt, relations will could warm up. This is the cornerstone of American policy in the Caucasus - to separate Georgia and Russia from each other.”
Nika Korinteli, Journalist at “Georgia and World”: “Sergey Lavrov: Russia is ready to restore relations with Georgia. The “Strategic partner” does not even allow us to even speak to Russians.”
Beso Barbakadze, Journalist at “Georgia and World”: “It is not in the West’s interest to allow Georgia to have a one-on-one dialogue with Russia. Because, in this case, there is a huge chance of regulating the relations and positive shifts to start in all directions.”
Eka Naskidashvili, Journalist at “Georgia and World”: “The so-called “Western Partners” often tell us that we should speak to Russia, but then they always interfere. The statement of the US ambassador following the statement of Lavrov is a clear demonstration of that…”
Ani Kiknadze, Journalist at “Obieqtivi”: “Kelly Degnan responded to Lavrov instead of the government and the public. The ambassador's tone and the statement resembled an interference in another country's foreign affairs rather than the assessment of the process."
Soso Tsintsadze, Politologist: “Please ask the ambassador: If the US itself speaks with Russia, why shouldn’t we?”
The risks of staying one-on-one with Russia
The issue of direct dialogue with Russia has been advocated by the pro-Kremlin “Alliance of Patriots,” TV “Obieqtivi,” and other actors for years. Direct dialogue with the Kremlin is seen as a counterweight to the Geneva International Talks.
- The Geneva International Discussions were launched after the August 2008 war to ensure the August 12th, 2008, six-point ceasefire agreement.
- It represents the only format providing an opportunity for holding a dialogue with the representatives of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali involving the UN, OSCE and EU. The discussions also involve the representatives from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as members of Georgian de-facto administrations of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.
- Geneva format is essential in a way that it does not leave Georgia alone vis-à-vis the aggressor country, involving all of Georgia’s international partners.
- Representatives of the occupational regimes are represented not as sides, but as individual actors in Geneva talks, which again underlines the legal status of the self-proclaimed republics and the fact that the 2008 war was an intervention of the neighbour country – Russia to Georgia, thus, recognizing Russia and Georgia as the only two sides of the war.
Georgia has ceased diplomatic relations with Russia as a result of its military aggression in August 2008 and the recognition of so-called Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.