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Georgia's Parliamentary Chief Says Relations With Russia Deteriorating

Davit Usupashvili (file photo)
Davit Usupashvili (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of Georgia’s parliament says Tbilisi's relations with Russia have deteriorated since start of the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists.

Davit Usupashvili told RFE/RL on March 6 that Tbilisi's relations with Moscow are changing from "bad to worse, because what's happening in Ukraine is a continuation of the process which started in August 2008 in Georgia."

Russia and Georgia broke formal diplomatic relations after the two countries fought a six-day war in August 2008.

Since December 2012, representatives from the two countries have engaged in limited bilateral talks in Prague.

Usupashvili said neither those talks nor enhanced trade would change Russia's aggressive behavior.

He said that only more “outside pressure” could change Russia's behavior.

Earlier this week, Russian launched what it described as “military exercises” in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- the Russian-backed separatist regions where the Kremlin’s forces have remained since the 2008 war.

Usupashvili said he was "very angry" about Russia’s military muscle flexing there.

But he said: “I am expressing my anger in resolutions of the parliament and statements because it's not a viable option to translate this anger into something else -- taking a weapon and fighting. We learned some lessons in August 2008."

Russian soldiers await their departure from a checkpoint in a breakaway region of Georgia in 2008, when the countries fought a brief but deadly war.
Russian soldiers await their departure from a checkpoint in a breakaway region of Georgia in 2008, when the countries fought a brief but deadly war.

On March 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed an order backing a draft treaty with South Ossetia that will deepen military and economic ties between Moscow and the self-styled separatist leadership there.

The order follows a similar one signed between Russia and Abkhazia’s self-styled separatist leadership.

Usupashvili said the treaty was not done "in accordance with the rules and practices” of international law.

Nevertheless, he said Georgia wants to normalize its relations with Moscow because "no matter how things will go, we have to live next to Russia."

Usupashvili was in Washington to meet with U.S. officials and lawmakers.

His week-long visit comes the same week that former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, now an adviser to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, testified to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and urged the United States to supply military weaponry to Ukrainian government forces.

Saakashvili’s appointment by Poroshenko has sparked tensions between the two countries.

Georgia summoned Ukraine's ambassador in Tbilisi to explain the move, and Kyiv refused a request from Tbilisi to extradite Saakashvili to face corruption charges in Georgia.

Saakashvili’s supporters say the charges against him are politically motivated.

Usupashvili said he was reluctant to criticize Kyiv for the move because of the reform challenges that the Ukrainian government faces.

But he said: “The only thing which I would advise to Ukrainians or Ukrainian leadership” would be “to be more careful" about moves like appointing Saakashvili as a presidential adviser in Kyiv.