Pragmatism spurs Russia and Georgia toward smoother relations
Signs of a thaw between Russia and Georgia include the reopening of one border post on the major Caucasus highway and a possible move to resume direct air links. Relations between Russia and Georgia behave been in a freeze since last year's war over breakaway Georgian territories.
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But amid growing rumors that diplomatic rapprochement may be in the air, experts say some practical necessities are dragging the two antagonists toward at least a partial settlement of their differences.
The signs include last week's deal to reopen a single border post on the major Caucasus highway and a possible agreement to resume direct air links.
"The prevailing mood in Georgia is that relations with Russia should be improved, and the government should work more actively toward that end," says Georgi Khutsishvili, director of the independent Center on Conflict and Negotiation in Tbilisi.
"The fact that leaders of both countries have a terrible personal relationship, and keep saying bad things, is not a suitable basis for state policy. We need to move beyond that," he adds.
Since then, relations have been in a deep freeze.
Both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev have made angry – and sometimes very personal – allegations against Mr. Saakashvili, and the Kremlin appears to have hoped that he would be unseated in an unsuccessful wave of Georgian opposition protests that took place earlier this year.
Yet Mr. Medvedev said this month that he favors restoration of direct air service between Moscow and Tbilisi, and Russia's border service hailed last week's decision to reopen the Upper Lars checkpoint, citing the "shared need to resume international traffic between Russia and Georgia."
Russia's only Caucasus ally, Armenia, has suffered badly from the cutoff of land transport links. Moscow maintains a cold war-era military garrison in Armenia, reportedly with more than 1,000 troops, and has had chronic difficulties resupplying them.