The Freeze After the Fall

Expect a lot of noise from the neo-Cold War alarmists about the Russia-Georgia talks in Geneva breaking down before they even started. Not a big deal, though. They’re rescheduled for a month form now, and time isn’t on the Russians’ side. Should they insist on holding onto the provinces, they will open themselves up to very easy asymmetric strikes (last week’s, for instance), of the sort that will eventually necessitate a full-scale invasion and occupation of all of Georgia. In other words, a total waste of resources while they’re trying to reestablish their rusting military (see Richard Weitz’ WPR column from yesterday).

While a number of accounts are reporting a Georgia-Russia blame game over the actual status at the table of the two province/”countries,” this passage from the Kommersant piece suggests that the Russians aren’t under any illusions about what actually constitutes a sovereign state:

But all of a sudden a quarrel broke out betweenAbkhaz Foreign Office Chief Sergei Shamba and Russian diplomats.”Shamba demanded that his delegation and that of South Ossetia shouldbe granted the status of independent states, with the Georgian languageexcluded from the forum’s official languages,” the source added.”Grigory Karasin and Andrei Kelin (Chief of the Russian Foreign Ministry CIS department, in charge of the relations with Russia – Kommersant)tried to pacify Mr Shamba, but he left the venue with Boris Chochiyev(acting Prime Minister of South Ossetia – Kommersant). The Russianseven had to apologize for them.”

Meanwhile, the EU postponed until next month a decision on restarting talks on the EU-Russia partnership agreement that, despite Russia’s nonchalance about it, represents a potential first step towards a logical rapprochement.

It’s possible the Russian leadership is as stupid as their rhetoric, but I didn’t have that impression. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were never more than bargaining chips, andthe Russians will cash them in when Moscow has either gotten what it wants forthem or they become too costly to hold onto.