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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW599 2007-02-09 15:14 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #0599/01 0401514
P 091514Z FEB 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 000599 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/08/2017 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reason:  1.4 (b, d) 
1. (C) On January 22 Putin sent his ambassador back to 
Georgia with fanfare.  On February 5-6 the two countries held 
constructive talks on restoring direct air links, with other 
talks soon to begin on restoring sea freight connections. 
The newly re-staffed Russian embassy in Tbilisi includes visa 
officers, though only Putin can give the go-ahead to start 
issuing visas again.   Russia has softened its hard tactical 
line on Abkhazia (Georgian forces in the Upper Kodori Valley) 
and South Ossetia (favoring direct one-on-one talks between 
Georgia and the separatists).  The Russians are happy that 
Georgian rhetoric toned down after outspoken DefMin 
Okruashvili was sacked.  Georgia has also rescinded onerous 
procedures Okruashvili instituted for the transit of Russian 
personnel and military overflights.  However, rolling back 
unilateral Russian sanctions and taking small steps elsewhere 
do not comprise a Russian rapprochement with Georgia, nor are 
they meant to.  Rather, Russia's all-stick-no-carrot tactics 
failed to produce results, and Putin is pulling back to give 
Russia more room for tactical maneuver with Georgia.  End 
"My President Follows These Issues Very Closely" 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
2. (C) On January 18 President Putin summoned to the Kremlin 
his Ambassador to Tbilisi, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who had been 
languishing in a corner of the MFA since he left Georgia last 
September.  Russia had recalled Kovalenko to protest the 
detention of Russian servicemen on espionage charges -- the 
first action in a series of harsh sanctions and a press 
campaign against Georgia and Georgians.  Now, with cameras 
rolling in the Kremlin, Putin was making a point of sending 
Kovalenko back to Tbilisi.  Kovalenko arrived January 22. 
3. (C) Russia then began a further series of small steps. 
Productive Civil Aviation negotiations took place in Moscow 
February 5-6 on resumption of direct air links.  As a result, 
only one issue remains outstanding -- Georgian payment of 
debt owed for non-payment of air navigation fees.  The 
Georgians agreed in principle to pay, according to MFA 4th 
CIS Department Principal Deputy Director Dmitriy Tarabrin, 
but wanted to have agreement on the debt's value before 
signing the protocol.  A second round will be held in Tbilisi 
at the end of February.  Also scheduled for February are 
negotiations on resuming sea freight links, and postal links 
are expected soon as well. 
4. (C) All this, according to Tarabrin, is part of the "plan" 
for relaxing sanctions approved by Putin.  Tarabrin said that 
even had the Georgians wanted to sign the air links protocol, 
the Russians would not have been ready -- because they need 
Putin's personal approval to proceed with each step after all 
the problems and technical underbrush are cleared away.  "I 
am revealing no great secret," Tarabrin said, "if I tell you 
that our President takes a close interest in these issues." 
Tarabrin noted that visa issuance to Georgians, suspended 
last September, will also resume -- but only when Putin 
himself gives the order. 
5. (C) Putin is also clearly behind the MFA's new flexibility 
on "frozen conflicts."  4th CIS Department Director Kelin 
signaled on January 31 that Russia was dropping its previous 
demand that all Georgian forces withdraw from the Upper 
Kodori Valley, which Russia had previously held was mandated 
by UNSCR 1716 (Ref. A).  Now, Kelin said, an Interior 
Ministry force could stay as long as the presence was reduced 
enough to preclude offensive action against Abkhazia -- he 
said 200 would be acceptable to Russia vice the 500 there 
now.  Kelin also made no mention of previous Russian demands 
for withdrawal of the Georgian-backed "Abkhaz 
Government-in-Exile," which now administers Upper Kodori for 
the Georgian Government.  Tarabrin clarified on February 7 
that Russia has been reassured by the success of joint 
UNOMIG/PKF patrols in Upper Kodori.  However, Russia (and the 
Abkhaz) are still bothered by the "G-i-E" in expectation that 
Georgia will try to drag it into the negotiating process as 
equivalent to the de facto separatist authorities, a move 
that could cause negotiations to collapse, in his view. 
Tarabrin emphasized that only the separatists -- and not the 
"G-i-E" -- are recognized as a party to the negotiations. 
(This is probably behind the Russian insistence that 
separatist Abkhaz "FM" Shamba travel to the UN.) 
6. (C) On South Ossetia, Russian negotiator Yuriy Popov told 
us February 2 that Russia will not object to direct 
MOSCOW 00000599  002 OF 002 
one-on-one dialogue between Georgian negotiator Antadze and 
his South Ossetian interlocutor Chochiyev.  Russia had 
previously opposed the idea
, and even now was dropping its 
objections only partially.  In Russia's view, the dialogue 
could not be in the "Authorized Delegations" format requested 
by Tbilisi, but rather as a dialogue between two Co-Chairs of 
the Joint Coordinating Commission, the current negotiating 
format that Georgia wants to change.  The dialogue must not 
deal with certain issues such as police and security, but 
should rather concentrate on issues such as preparing for a 
meeting between President Saakashvili and South Ossetian 
separatist leader Kokoity. 
But There is a Limit 
7. (C) Georgian Ambassador to Russia Irakli Chubinishvili 
took note of the Russian steps, as well as the virtual 
cessation of deportations of Georgians.  On the Georgian 
side, he had personally been involved in taking some small 
steps such as canceling the onerous requirements imposed by 
former DefMin Okruashvili on Russian overflights of military 
planes en route to Armenia -- all paperwork to be translated 
into Georgian, advance notice beyond that required by 
agreement, etc.  He was also involved in the Russian request 
that the Georgian government give Russia the building once 
used as the headquarters of the Group of Russian Forces in 
the Transcaucasus and later by the Georgian Ministry of 
Defense (which has since moved out).  The Russians want the 
building to be their grand new Embassy in Tbilisi. 
8. (C) But these steps do not necessarily herald a thaw, 
Chubinishvili told us.  There is no sign that the Russians 
are preparing to roll back their serious economic sanctions 
-- the bans on mineral water, Georgian wine, and all 
agricultural products; and the closure of the one legal land 
border between Russia and Georgia.  If the bans on water and 
wine are lifted, he said, it will be entirely due to Russian 
internal dynamics (brand loyalty, nostalgia, maneuvering 
among distribution companies, and -- in the case of Borjomi 
water -- connection with oligarchs Badri Patarkatsishvili and 
Boris Berezovskiy) rather than to rapprochement with Georgia. 
 The border closure will maintain friction over Russia's WTO 
membership; Georgia retains its bilateral objection to Russia 
over Russia's maintenance of open borders with separatist 
entities without Georgian customs presence. 
9. (C) Rather, Chubinishvili said, he expects a "quiet" 2007, 
with few further developments.  He also expects a "difficult" 
2008, owing to elections in both Russia and Georgia.  But he 
warned that Abkhazia could prove a flashpoint.  He believed 
that Russia and Georgia have achieved a symmetrical but 
dangerous stand-off:  Russia will recognize Abkhaz 
independence if Georgia attempts to use force against 
Abkhazia; conversely, Georgia will use armed force if Russia 
recognizes Abkhaz independence.  This is a not entirely 
stable balance, he warned, because the situation in Gali 
(Abkhaz controlled but ethnically Georgian) is deteriorating. 
 The Georgian farmers are emboldened.  In previous years, 
they bore with resignation the rapine -- by Abkhaz and 
Georgian mafias alike -- of the mandarin and hazelnut 
harvests, their main cash crops.  Not any more. 
Chubinishvili believes the Georgian farmers were behind 
recent murders of Abkhaz officials (which took place during 
mandarin season). 
10. (C) In our view, Putin has decided that Moscow's 
all-stick-no-carrot policy has left the Kremlin with no room 
for maneuver:  it has used up all its levers without gaining 
any leverage.  This is far from heralding a thaw, as Putin's 
ire with Saakashvili is not likely to be slaked so quickly. 
Nor do Russia's softer positions on frozen conflicts 
represent a desire to resolve them, or at least to resolve 
Abkhazia.  As we reported in Ref B and previously, Russia's 
maneuvers on the conflicts are aimed at preserving the status 
quo, and we do not believe that has changed.  What has 
changed is the tone of the discourse, and that could lead to 
reduced threat of conflict, as well as to some useful steps 
forward on less sensitive issues. 


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