- Title: GEORGIA/FILE: Georgia must talk to Russia, says former Georgian PM
- Date: 27th January 2010
- Summary: TBILISI, GEORGIA (JANUARY 25, 2010) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) GEORGIA'S FORMER PRIME MINISTER AND NOW OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER, ZURAB NOGAIDELI, SAYING: "For people of Georgia these western values are significantly damaged already because of Saakashvili's behaviour and we need to understand this."
- Embargoed: 11th February 2010 12:00
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVAEFP2M73QOQMG8CTV351R70IQX
- Story Text: It is a measure of the dilemma facing Georgia that a former prime minister should stake his political comeback on a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Opposition leader Zurab Nogaideli said on Monday (January 25) Georgians must restore good relations with their northern neighbour if they are ever to win back the rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"Whenever we will start direct talks with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, and if the talks need to be successful or is successful, then it cannot be done together with the confrontation with Russia as it is today. It is impossible," Nogaideli said in an interview in his office in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
"We all know the influence of Russia over Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, obviously, and it will be stupid of me to think that I can negotiate something with Sukhumi or with Tskhinvali and at the same time be in confrontation with Moscow. It is just simply impossible," added Nogaideli, a former ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who entered the opposition after the war.
Analysts say Nogaideli's political support is minimal, but his call for direct dialogue with Moscow goes to the heart of the question Georgia will wrestle with as it leaves behind the war -- what kind of relationship should it have with Russia? He said a brief encounter last month with Putin, a much hated-figure for most Georgians since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, has done his ratings a world of good.
Nogaideli said Georgia must restore economic ties with both rebel regions and "de-isolate" them from Georgia and the rest of the world.
"Georgia's unification is to be discussed with our Ossetian and Abkhaz brothers rather than with Moscow and the Kremlin. That's the recipe, there is no other recipe left. We need to understand that and we need to face reality. Russians are not going to change their decision of formal recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia unless the climate is changed there, in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. We need to get this understood," he said.
Moscow crushed an assault by U.S. ally Georgia on South Ossetia in the five-day war and went on to recognise the tiny rebel region and the Black Sea territory of Abkhazia as independent states, ignoring western condemnation.
The Kremlin says it wants nothing to do with Saakashvili, who came to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution promising to drag Georgia from its post-Soviet slumber and bang on NATO's door over Russian objections.
Nogaideli, and some others in the opposition, are trying to make the relations with Russia a primary campaign issue as the government nears its latest test of support in a mid-year mayoral election in the capital Tbilisi.
The 46-year-old bristles at the label "pro-Russian", but says Georgians must learn to face "new realities":
"For people of Georgia these western values are significantly damaged already because of Saakashvili's behaviour and we need to understand this," he said.
"We are now facing new reality, unfortunately, at the same time. Georgian NATO prospects have been buried by August war. The door is open, but this door is far away and it is very difficult to imagine, you know, that Georgia in the nearest future will be able to go through this door," he added.
Nogaideli explained his final goal was to unify Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the territories recognized by his mighty northern neighbours as independent states shortly after the war, though he was not sure if his political life-time would be enough to achieve this goal.
"There is only one goal I have come back to politics for - the unification of Georgia, and that's the only reason and only goal and only dream which needs to be done through, and this is why I have come back," he said.
But analysts doubt Nogaideli's move into opposition will win wide public support unless he manages to unite the fragmented Georgian opposition and their supporters around his main idea -- to open a new page in Russian-Georgian relations before the upcoming mayoral election in Tbilisi.
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