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Leadership Changes and the Russia-Georgia Dynamic

Leadership Changes and the Russia-Georgia Dynamic

Eugene Chausovsky // Stratfor

Relations between Russia and Georgia have largely been in a state of status quo over the past three years ever since the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008. However there are three upcoming elections in Russia, Georgia and in the breakaway territory of South Ossetia that could challenge the status quo.

For all intents and purposes, the relationship between Russia and Georgia has been in deadlock since the war. Russia established a military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia immediately after the war and has maintained this presence, while Georgia is no closer to becoming a NATO member than it was before the war began.

However, there are three leadership changes on the horizon that could change this overall dynamic. The first leadership change is presidential elections that will take place in South Ossetia which will be held on Nov. 13. This election is controversial because South Ossetia’s independence, which was declared shortly after the 2008 war, is only recognized by Russia and a handful of other states, while the Georgian government maintains that this territory belongs to Georgia and is under Russian occupation. But another element of controversy has an add to these elections, as the incumbent president is not eligible to seek another term, and there have been protests over who should succeed him.

The second leadership change is in Russia, which will hold presidential elections in March 2012. As STRATFOR has previously mentioned, the decision of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to seek a return to the presidency was taken to shape global perception, and that Putin’s return would be accompanied by a more assertive approach in Russia’s foreign policy. As a sign of this, certain Russian officials have said that if there were any problems in the elections in South Ossetia, then the “artificial borders” between North and South Ossetia can be removed. This suggests that Russian could be keeping the annexation of South Ossetia as one of its options moving forward.

The third leadership change is in Georgia, which will be holding parliamentary elections in May 2012 and presidential elections in March of 2013. Georgia’s current president, Mikhail Saakashvili, is not eligible to run for another presidential term. And there have been rumors that Saakashvili could pull a Putin, which means that he would run for prime minister with the intention of returning to the presidency in 2018.

However there has been a new candidate, a banking and retail billionaire, that has thrown his hat into the political ring. Ivanishvili has pledged to "challenge Saakashvili and prevent the current president from becoming the prime minister and preserving power".

Though Ivanishvili faces several obstacles, he could bring a new and interesting element to Georgian politics with elections approaching, something that Russia is bound to be watching closely. Therefore, there are a number of moving pieces in the political picture in Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia, and as the region has proven before, a dynamic situation can quickly turn into a volatile one.

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