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The sharp statements made by Tbilisi last week were echoed by Moscow
But the war of words has not cut short the negotiations on the conditions for the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia and the withdrawal of troops. The sides are searching for a compromise. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said, "Russia has submitted its last project for the consideration of experts, who will tackle the problem professionally." Nino Burdzhanadze, the speaker of the Georgian parliament, noted that Russia's proposals on the withdrawal timeframe, which they received from Moscow two days before, "can be signed; it is a compromise we can accept." The Russian Foreign Ministry's press department reported that last Monday Sergei Lavrov and his Georgian counterpart Salome Zurabishvili "agreed that the heads of the two delegations would promptly coordinate the timeframe for and the venue for the next round of expert talks." Official spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Yakovenko noted that so far no agreement on the deadlines for the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia was reached. In his words, the term should be closer to four years. The Kremlin continues to remind Georgia and the rest of the world that it is prepared to honor its previous obligations and that the withdrawal issue had been settled by the country's top officials. Lavrov says, "If we had talked professionally, we would have harmonized all issues long ago. But the attempts to use the issue for political games is only hindering the process." Indeed, the Georgian statements and bills on outlawing Russian bases in Georgia as of May 15 could not make Moscow more pliant. On the contrary, the Russian minister warned Tbilisi that Russia "would do everything necessary to ensure that the normal life of its citizens in Georgia employed at its military bases, and the property of the bases, weapons and munitions are not threatened." "We will not sit by and do nothing," Lavrov said, if "steps are taken to create a threat to the bases endangering the life and safety of citizens, let alone the danger of the bases' weapons landing in the wrong hands." It appears, however, that the highest danger point in the conflict is past, because neither side is interested in its escalation. Russia, which has adopted a decision of principle on closing the bases, should begin minimizing the possible and existing problems of the Russian servicemen in Georgia. "They have problems and have had them for a long time," said Alexander Khramchikhin, an expert at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. "Georgia has been placing limits on the operation of the Russian military for several years, and the longer this goes on, the more difficult their life will be." Tbilisi's desire to solve the problem quickly is understandable. But why now? It did nothing for years, and then its parliament suddenly adopted a resolution that reads: "The deployment of Russian military bases in Georgia has no legal status and, according to agreements, these military bases should be in the stage of withdrawal, which is why the maintenance of their combat ability, combat exercises and personnel rotation are unacceptable." Sergei Kazennov, the head of the geopolitics department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences says the haste is because "the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline will be commissioned soon, and they [Georgian officials] think that this will free Georgia of the critical dependence on Russian energy resources." The expert said openly that "by withdrawing the bases, we [Russia] will lose political influence." One way or another, there is no time left to discuss the expediency of the withdrawal. The top issue on the current agenda is the creation of the best possible conditions for the returning Russian servicemen. At the same time, Russia should create a new military infrastructure to replace the withdrawing troops and prevent Russia from being ousted from the South Caucasus.
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