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"Georgian Dream", the government coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, promised to continue with Euro-Atlantic integration and, at the same time, get closer to Moscow. Yet, not everything seems to go as planned

18/12/2012 -  Tengiz Ablotia Tbilisi

One month after the arrival in power of the "Georgian Dream" coalition, foreign policy promises turn out just as difficult to maintain as those in domestic policy.

During the election campaign, foreign policy had remained in the background – debates and promises had focused on economic and social issues, utility tariffs, and so on. However, a country with the Georgia's geopolitical position cannot afford to ignore foreign policy. The promises of "dreamers" (a term frequently used to refer to members of "Georgian Dream", the coalition emerged victorious from the elections of October) are extremely contradictory and almost mutually incompatible.

This is especially true of the intent to maintain a pro-Western orientation (European integration and NATO membership), while at the same time improving relations with Russia. Bidzina Ivanishvili has repeatedly stated he could convince Russia that Georgia's European integration does not conflict with the interests of Moscow. He did not specify how he intends to do so, but still implied he has a plan in this regard. The month just passed has shown, however, how unrealistic the promises of "Georgian Dream" are.

Dreams and reality

In the early days in power, Prime Minister Ivanishvili appointed as personal representative for relations with Moscow a former Ambassador to Russia, leading analyst Zurab Abashidze. This was supposed to be the first initiative that would demonstrate Georgia's willingness to improve relations with Moscow. However, the Russian response has been tepid, as indeed might be expected. Beyond the friendlier statements, the substance remains the same – Georgia will not change its foreign policy and is not going to become pro-Russian.

In turn, Moscow certainly is not eager to renew ties with Georgia, and the "dreamers"' idea of the Russian interest in friendship with Tbilisi is greatly exaggerated – in fact, this is for Russia a secondary problem. Moscow's position is very clear: the restoration of economic ties between the two countries goes all to the interest of Georgia and does not make any difference to Russia, so Moscow can afford to wait for Tbilisi to make the first move. Symptomatic in this regard is Medvedev's statement that, though very friendly, poses a prerequisite for the restoration of relations – Georgia should "recognize the new reality", i.e. recognize the breakaway regions.

This is an impossible condition to be fulfilled – a government that recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would last up to two weeks at best. Ivanishvili himself has clearly stated that the question admits of no compromise – diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia will not be restored until Russia refuses to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And so, the foreign policy of the "Georgian Dream" has failed even before the start. There will be no improvement, except in the more neutral, friendlier rhetoric.

The most Georgia can currently get is the opening of the Russian market for Georgian products. However, contrary to the prevalent opinion, this will not lead to significant economic growth. The Russian market is already crowded with everything you can imagine and there is a lot of competition. Furthermore, it was open until 2006, and this was not enough to bring prosperity to the country. In any case, a process of harmonization for the reopening of the commercial outlet would presumably be long and complex, as happened in the case of Moldova.

Relations with the West

The peaceful change of government in Georgia has aroused great satisfaction in the Western allies, who have seen it as a great progress in the process of building democratic institutions. It should also be noted that the West has played a huge role in making this change possible: during the election campaign, the National Movement had to deal with the international public opinion and was not able to fully use all its resources in the fight against the "dreamers". Saakashvili's recognition of the electoral defeat was also due to the West's rigid position. However, at the moment, relationships between Ivanishvili and the West are not idyllic either, especially for the harsh criticisms raised by the arrest of several officials of the former government.

At first glance, the dreamers' point is crystal clear – it is not a case of political arrests, but of specific criminal charges. However, the reality is quite different, as many arrests are based on not very convincing, and too insignificant allegations – verbal abuse to subordinates, a brawl at a restaurant a year and a half ago, a loss of 3 tons of gasoline, and so on. Against the background of the terrible crimes flashed during the election campaign, such accusations suggest political motives behind the arrests.

In addition, the "dreamers" are engaged in open warfare against local governments elected in 2010, where in most cases, including in Tbilisi, the National Movement is in the majority. The war goes mainly through financial inspections and pickets at local government offices. According to the "dreamers", it is a case of ordinary, completely a-political revisions in the first case, and spontaneous initiatives by the people, not controlled by the "Georgian Dream", in the second case. If the argument is plausible in the first case, in the second it is most likely a lie – everyone knows that nothing happens in the Georgian Dream's orbit without Ivanishvili's personal approval.

Thus, despite the generally benevolent rhetoric, the first few weeks have not been easy for the new government. Ivanishvili has reacted to criticism in a somewhat short-sighted way, for example by attacking the influential Washington Post for a critical article , saying that nothing will change in the country only for some criticism from abroad. "The Georgian government knows what's going on in the country and knows how to behave", he said.

It is not clear whether this is the reason why Ivanishvili postponed a planned visit to the United States until a later date – officially, the cancellation is due to heavy workloads. In addition, after the first trip to Brussels, there is no visit abroad planned for the coming months, or at least there is no official information about it. Georgian foreign policy remains therefore unchanged, but strategic difficulties have already emerged clearly.

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