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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 November, 2003, 23:53 GMT
Russia seeks new Georgia ties
By Jonathan Charles
BBC, Moscow

The Russian Government knows that every crisis also brings potential opportunities.

Its decision to send its Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to Georgia to act as a mediator is unlikely to have been motivated by altruism.

The apparent success of his mission to persuade President Eduard Shevardnadze to step down will encourage Russia to try to increase its influence over its often troublesome neighbour.

Russia has struggled to make its voice count in Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia has struggled to make its voice count in Georgia
Georgia has preferred to look westwards, courting America.

A change of leadership may bring a fresh desire in Georgia for dialogue with Russia.

The Russian Government regards Georgia as strategically important.

Georgia does not have oil, but it does sit astride a transit route for the export of crude oil from the nearby Caspian Sea.

Georgia also shares a border with Chechnya where Russian troops have been fighting rebels who want independence.

Russia has complained frequently that some Chechen fighters are hiding in Georgia, and not enough is being done to try to detain them. Russia might now hope to put pressure on a new administration to take tougher action against the Chechens.

Russia is also keen on a settlement of the long-running disputes between those regions of Georgia which have fought for autonomy, such as Abkhazia, and the central Georgian government.

It will all depend on the new Georgian leadership. Russia will be watching closely for any sign of change.




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