A Ukraine-Georgia Split?

TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian and Russian media is currently speculating about a kind of a "splitting" in the revolutionary friendship between Ukraine and Georgia.

Yushchenko (L) and Saakashvili (R) - can old frienships survive politics?

Analysts observe that it seems as if President Yushchenko of Ukraine, on the eve of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine, is trying not to further irritate Russia and in doing so he is trying to keep a distance from Georgia. The Georgian media has observed that President Saakashvili seems to have become a little upset about this.

However, hurt feelings over that the fact that Ukraine seems to be keeping its distance from Georgia has no basis in common sense as every country acts according its national interests and politics is not a field for personal sentiments.

Against the background of Georgia's and Russia's deteriorating relationship, brought on by Georgia's demand for the removal of the Russian peacekeepers from the Tskhinvali, the Ukrainian foreign ministry expressed its readiness to deploy Ukrainian peacekeepers in the conflict zone. However, this prospect remains in the realm of fantasy as Ukraine has stated that it would require an official UN mandate to carry out such activities (while Russian peacekeepers are operating under a CIS mandate). In order for a UN mandate to be activated it would need to be approved by the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member with a veto right. Changing the existing CIS mandate is even less likely as Russia is undoubtedly the dominant power in this organization.

Meanwhile Russia constantly tries to provoke a confrontation between Georgia and Ukraine. Russian political scientist Sergey Markov has suggested that the purpose of Saakashvili's slated visit to Ukraine that was postponed last week would be to gauge the level of Russophobia among Ukrainian politicians. According to Markov, Ukrainian political circles would be wise not to play to the Georgian president's caprices, because those who forge anti-Russian bonds with Georgia could do irreparable damage to their relations with Moscow. Sakartvelos Respublica has also quoted Markov as saying that both Yushchenko and Saakashvili are failed politicians and their friendship is based on a mixture of democracy tainted with Russophobia.

This pressure from Moscow seems to be working to an extent as according to the newspaper Rezonansi representatives of Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" party in the Rada/Parliament recently announced that they would not support the idea of sending Ukrainian peacekeepers to Tskhinvali region during the hearings.

Clearly Ukraine has decided to choose a softer approach for carrying on its relationship with Russia than the Saakashvili administration has. This has several reasons. First of all the nature of the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia is not of the same character as the one that is currently being played out between Georgia and Russia. Moscow and Kyiv may have broader economic issues at stake, but Russia's presence in the Caucasus has always been volatile and the situation in the conflict zones poses a very real threat of violence. Secondly the president of Ukraine is very different from President Saakashvili. Yushchenko is more moderate, less straightforward, and does not wear his emotions on his sleeve. The third argument is that before the forthcoming parliamentary elections Yushchenko does not need to further irritate Russia.

As Georgian analyst Paata Zakareishvili points out, if Yushchenko feels that, at the moment, a relationship with Saakashvili will irritate Russia he will keep his distance. Moreover, Zakareishvili believes that the Georgian president's recent bluster make him something of an international political liability. According to him, Saakashvili's recent stance has been so inflammatory that most probably Yushchenko feels uncomfortable next to him. Some observers speculate that maybe Yushchenko is, at this point, not so happy to be constantly reminded by Saakashvili of his extreme role in the Orange Revolution. "At the moment, standing alongside Saakashvili is somewhat discrediting," Zakareishvili explained in an interview with Rezonansi.

Saakashvili had high hopes for enlisting Ukraine as a staunch ally after the Orange Revolution. He speculated about the possibility of establishing a new geo-political reality. He wanted to use Ukraine as an engine to help fulfill his plans for Georgia and to integrate the country into European structures. However, it seems clear at this point that Europe is not willing to place Ukraine and Georgia in the same boat and that, from the European perspective, the two countries actually belong to different geo-strategic entities.

Georgian media has commented on a certain personal tension between Yushchenko and Saakashvili. Ukraine's retreat on the peacekeeping issue so irritated Saakashvili that he decided to cancel his trip to Kyiv and did not congratulate Yushchenko personally on his birthday on February 23. Georgian analysts predict a further rise in tension between Georgia and its current friends as Tbilisi's call to arms against Russia becomes increasingly cacophonous. "The more we confront Russia, the more our friends will turn their backs on us," said Ramaz Sakvarelidze in an interview with Rezonansi.

We must hope that it hasn't come to that and that our good friends will not forsake us in order to curry favor with Moscow; however a common sense approach on the part of our government would be much appreciated by our friends. The Georgian administration should start measuring its statements and actions and work to make sure that we do not get left out in the cold metaphorically, because physical cold is bad enough.

Source: The Messenger