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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Merab ANTADZE: “Ukrainian-Georgian relations are an example of cooperation between a large state and a small one”

7 November, 2006 - 00:00

Relations between Georgia and Russia have reached the boiling point, and both sides are aware of this. The first attempt to defuse the crisis was made at a recent meeting of the Georgian and Russian foreign ministers. One of the participants in the talks was Merab Antadze, Georgia’s Minister of State for Conflict Resolution. He discussed problems connected to the resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts with Aleksandr Denisov, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia.

Did the two sides succeed in outlining a way out of the current crisis? What role can Europe and Ukraine play in resolving this crisis and the frozen conflicts? Below is the text of The Day’s interview with Merab Antadze.

“During the negotiations, Russia showed Georgia a detailed list of conditions for normalizing Georgian-Russian relations. What are these conditions?”

“I do not know the detailed list. We mostly spoke about existing problems. Both sides have made an analysis of the situation. The two sides admitted that we are going through a very difficult period in our relations, not the best by far. But we have a clear vision of how all this can be corrected. Naturally, the Russian side has its own interpretation of what is going on. But the main thing is that we agreed on the necessity to hold a dialogue. We think we should meet each other at any time, even the most difficult one, and try to find some way out of the situation.”

“The leader of the Green Party, Georgiy Gachechiladze, said on the eve of the talks that the concessions on which the Russian side is insisting, include establishing the Georgian-Russian Antiterrorist Center (ATC), based on the existing Russian military installation in Batumi, launching railway service on the territory of Abkhazia, and privatizing the Georgia-Russia-Armenia gas pipeline.”

“I can say in no uncertain terms that none of these questions was negotiated. I can say is that all the existing possibilities for renewing the dialogue were discussed in general. But the ATC and other facilities that our colleague named were definitely not discussed.”

“Why do you think Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was very reserved and made only a brief comment after the talks: ‘We shall see’?”

“The situation is really not an easy one, and our reciprocal claims are well-grounded. This means that the talks were very difficult. But on the positive side, we have a mutual desire to renew the dialogue and consultations by all possible means. There are concrete initiatives and proposals from the Georgian side, including a meeting between the president of Georgia and the leader of South Ossetia. The main thing is that in the course of the ministerial meeting the Georgian side did its utmost to renew the dialogue and bring these problems for discussion at a possible meeting of the two presidents at the CIS summit on Nov. 28. We are prepared to do everything so that this meeting will take a certain step forward, even if it’s a small one.”

“It has been reported that Georgia will insist on a ‘two-way road’ during the negotiations. What does this mean?”

“This means that Tbilisi wants to make deals with its colleagues in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali on its own as part of a two-way process. Conditions for this kind of format should be created. We expect Russia to change its current attitude to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On our part, we have always been insisting on a two-way format in order to come to terms with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We do not exclude Russia: it should be present, without a doubt. But in addition to Russia there should be participants that can really guarantee the political resolution of the issues now on the agenda.”

“Whom do you see as guarantors?”

“These are, of course, international organizations that are involved in the settlement process, i.e., the OSCE and the UN. We are, of course, interested in the participation of the EU, other partners, and the US, which is taking an active part in this process. South Ossetia is beginning to carry out economic projects with the EU. We hope this process will make it possible to address other problems linked to a full-scale settlement.”

“But the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia insist that all the problems should be tackled with Russia’s participation?”

“We believe that the basic agreements concluded 14 years ago no longer meet today’s requirements. At the time, the question was to institute a ceasefire and disengage the forces. But a full-scale settlement needs a different mechanism. By this I mean the peace plan that Georgia has put forward. The two sides should make a deal if this plan’s clauses are to be effectively implemented.”

“Can Tbilisi reach an agreement with the current leadership of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?”

“Yes, if there are proper conditions. If the Russian side behaves civilly, naturally this will be possible.”

“Is Georgia going to insist that Russia withdraw its peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia? The leaders of these unrecognized republics have said that they will not agree to Russian peacekeepers being replaced by Ukrainian ones.”

“As concerns Russian peacekeepers, I must say in no uncertain terms that the Georgian parliament made a political decision to pull them out. When, and how, Georgia raises the question of withdrawal is ultimately and procedurally linked with the fact that we would still prefer not to complicate matters and hope that Russia will adopt a more adequate approach. Everything depends on Russia’s further conduct.”

“How would you assess GUAM’s actions in this crisis?”

“There were absolutely clear statements on the part of GUAM. There are no double standards here. Everything is very clear. We have reached a consensus on this format about conflict resolution, including the one between Georgia and Russia.”

“What kind of mechanism should be introduced to enable the GUAM countries to carry out a peacekeeping mission in Abkhazia and South Ossetia?”

“The mechanism is consultations with all parties: our colleagues in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, and the world community. It is necessary to convince everybody that the mechanism proposed by the Georgian side corresponds to the requirements of the task now on the agenda.”

“But Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not accept GUAM peacekeepers. Can the UN be expected to issue this kind of mandate?”

“This is difficult to predict. The ongoing negotiating process will create the conditions in which all sides will be modifying and finalizing their positions. I must say that, in furtherance of our earlier proposals, the Georgian side is drawing up new documents that provide more details about the division of our powers, status, economic matters, and demilitarization. All the basic elements are included in the peace plan approved by the OSCE foreign ministers in Ljubljana. These details will be submitted in the nearest future to the sides in this conflict and all the negotiators, including Russia. I think they will be revealed to the entire world community by the end of the year.”

“What role could the EU play in resolving this problem?”

“The European Union is already playing a role. Carrying out the above-mentioned economic projects is one factor that builds confidence and strengthens contacts. Obviously, the states involved in these projects are interested in stability and have a natural desire to join the process of political negotiations. So we believe that the involvement of these states in the talks and the peacekeeping mechanisms is very important for the EU to understand these problems in greater detail.”

“How would you assess Ukraine’s actions in the current Georgian-Russian conflict?”

“Relations between Ukraine and Georgia are truly very special and they are an example of how a large state and a small one can cooperate. These relations show that an open and strong state is the best thing for being a neighbor. Ukraine’s assistance and prestige are of paramount importance to us. I can say that Ukraine is very actively supporting the Georgian side and, naturally, like other states, it follows the main principles of a settlement. I think this kind of cooperation will continue.”

“You say ‘the Ukrainian side.’ But, to be more exact, who specifically supports Georgia — the president, parliament, or prime minister? Are there any differences among these institutions where support for your country is concerned?”

“I do not think there are any radical differences in the approach of governmental and public institutions. Naturally, there are certain political views and figures with different approaches. Apart from some rare exceptions, I have not heard any negative judgments.”

“What can you say about Viktor Yanukovych’s attitude to the Georgian-Russian conflict?”

“If the information I have is anything to go by, meetings with Yanukovych and his colleagues proceed in a trusting and very friendly atmosphere typical of Ukrainian-Georgian relations on the whole. I do not think there are any differences in the present context.”

“Are there fears in Georgia that the Ukrainian prime minister will revise his attitude to Georgia after Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov’s visit to Kyiv? After all, Russia promised Ukraine gas at the price of 130 dollars and no one knows what Moscow demanded in exchange.”

“I will say that relations between Ukraine and Georgia are not opportunistic but are deeply rooted. They are so profound that I find it difficult to imagine any serious changes on the part of any governmental officials in Ukraine.”

“Would Georgia like Ukraine, as a member of the UN Commission for Human Rights, to raise the question of Georgian rights that are being violated in Russia?”

“We are going to take a consistent approach to all human rights issues. And we will be raising this question either through Ukraine or certain institutions. Any question can be deferred but not human rights violations in Russia and xenophobia toward ethnic Georgians. This is a very pressing problem, and the Georgian side will be recording violations minutely. This is not just a question of Georgian-Russian relations; it is a question of values and human rights, which apply not only to Georgians but to the entire world community.”

“Following your negotiations in Moscow, Gazprom announced that next year Georgia will be receiving gas at a price two times higher than the current one. Will this make your country more pliant at the talks with Russia?”

“It is anybody’s guess how these prices come about — they differ even within the CIS. This is really a major question: to what extent does politics influence price formation? We think it is a mechanism that Russia is using to ensure its energy security. As for our pliancy, in the last while the Russian side has taken many steps that suggest the Georgian side will have to give in. But I must say that the price of the question is very high. It is not just a question of economic sanctions but of Georgia’s vital interests and statehood. It is crystal clear that these sanctions are creating problems for Georgia. But we are taking steps to minimize the likely consequences. I can emphasize that Russia’s new measures — the gas price hike — will in no way affect Georgia’s position. This position is very simple: normalizing the situation and eliminating existing negative factors.”

“How effective could an instrument, like vetoing Russia’s accession to the WTO, be for Georgia? Moscow says clearly that it is in no hurry to join this organization.”

“Our statements are economically loaded. Georgia is not slowing down Russia’s progress. On the contrary, we are interested in Russia becoming a member of the WTO and obeying this organization’s rules. We are going to record our complaints and their sources when we attend the multilateral talks.”

“After Moscow, you came to Kyiv with Georgia’s foreign minister. What problems are you addressing here, or are you trying to drum up support from Ukraine?”

“As a result of Russian sanctions, there is no regular service between Moscow and Tbilisi. But every cloud has a silver lining. We found ourselves in a beautiful city and are holding our consultations here. We have many questions about various aspects of Georgian-Ukrainian relations. As for seeking support, you are right. When two friendly states meet each other, this always implies support for one another.”

“You flew to Moscow via Baku. Was this choice also the result of good relations with Azerbaijan?”

“Naturally, we are taking advantage of the situation that has emerged as a result of Russian sanctions. We try to seize any opportunity for consultations. Such opportunities come up quite often — at both bilateral and multilateral meetings. We have discussed many problems with our Azerbaijani counterparts.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day