Russia’s crackdown on Georgians is “a soft form of ethnic cleansing,” Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said after a planeload of over 130 Georgians arrived from Moscow in the Tbilisi airport on October 6. The Georgians had been accused of migration offences and were deported by the Russian officials.
Although in public statements top Georgian officials tend to downplay Russia’s sanctions imposed on Georgia, some sources close to the Georgian leadership say that there is increasing concern in Saakashvili’s administration on how to tackle further anticipated pressure from the Kremlin.
Tbilisi fears that Russia’s trade and travel sanctions on Georgia, along with a crackdown on businesses owned by native Georgians in Russia and the deportation of Georgians, might be a prelude to more painful moves to follow.
Breakaway South Ossetia will hold an independence referendum on November 12, and the definition of Kosovo's status is looming. Many in Georgia fear that Russia may recognize South Ossetia after the referendum, which in its turn will increase the chances of the use of force by Tbilisi to regain control over the breakaway region.
“The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is possible by Russia,” Alexander Rondeli, who chairs the think-tank Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), told Civil Georgia.
However, he ruled out possibility of Russia’s “direct” military intervention if there is a resumption of hostilities in the breakaway regions.
But some analysts disagree. “What Russia is most afraid of is that the Georgian administration is planning some sort of military action against South Ossetia, which could actually lead to a war between Russia and Georgia,” Anatol Lieven of the Washington-based New America Foundation said in an interview with RFE/RL.
Rondeli says that tensions between the two countries are not likely to be defused in the near future. He also noted that now it is up to western powers to offer “compromises which will be acceptable for all the parties involved."
“But Georgia’s compromise at the expense of its Euro-Atlantic integration can be totally ruled out,” Rondeli said.
In a letter to the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, Russian President Putin declined the organization’s offer to mediate in defusing Russo-Georgian tensions, and instead called on the international community to pressure Georgia to not use force against breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Meanwhile, Georgian President Saakashvili said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro that Tbilisi has “no desire to irritate the Russians” and called for the EU backing of the, Reuters reported.
But EU officials have voiced critical remarks towards Tbilisi’s “unnecessarily provocative” stance towards Russia.
“In order to create the conditions for resolving conflicts by peaceful means, the rhetoric that has been at some points fairly sharp on the part of some Georgian officials will have to be toned down,” Peter Semneby, the EU special representative to the South Caucasus said on October 5.