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"Georgian Perceptions of the North Caucasus and of U.S.-Russia Relations"

George Khelashvili, Tbilisi State University

PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 148

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Abstract

Georgian-Russian relations have been frozen since the August 2008 war. This "freeze" resembles the situation of other "frozen" conflicts that have existed in the Caucasus since the 1990s. Indeed, the Georgian-Russian conflict has little chance for settlement in the foreseeable future, while containing vast potential for a renewed violent outbreak. What keeps the situation from thawing? Are there any signs that the underlying differences of the two countries' positions are easing? The main argument of this paper is that neither the Georgian nor Russian government has changed its position in the conflict or its underlying assumptions about regional politics-this situation sets the "frozen" conflict on an unavoidable collision course over the next few years. The apparent stabilization of Georgian-Russian tensions is predicated on the recent U.S.-Russian rapprochement rather than on any significant change in Georgian-Russian relations. Underlying causes as well as perceptions of the conflict remain unchanged and are fraught with the danger of a resumption in hostilities in the case of a cooling down of U.S.-Russian relations. Renewed Georgian-Russian hostilities would at best postpone any meaningful discussion about the new European architecture.