Russia-Georgia peace deal no panacea: analysts

September 11, 2008 - 0:0

MOSCOW (AFP) - A victory for common sense or a half-baked compromise?

While Russia sees its peace deal with Georgia as restoring harmony on its southern border, critics see uncertainty for all sides with stakes in the former Soviet Union -- including Moscow.
Monday's deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been hailed by many observers as a good outcome after Russia's surge into Georgia in defense of separatists last month -- a conflict that left hundreds dead and saw bombs dropped near Georgian installations including a strategic pipeline.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has sounded triumphant, saying on Tuesday he hoped a new deployment of Russian troops to Georgia's two rebel regions would ""stop the Georgian military regime's idiotic acts.""
Brussels-based analyst Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies hailed Sarkozy's diplomacy as a ""model exercise."" He praised the French leader's hammering out of a Russian troop withdrawal from all of Georgia except two rebel regions at the heart of the conflict.
But doubts remain on the fine print.
Sarkozy has insisted on access by European Union observers to the separatist territories, a demand Russia is reluctant to satisfy, while the U.S. State Department pointed out that in any case Moscow had failed to live up to past agreements.
""The coming weeks offer plenty of scope for quibbling and foot-dragging,"" noted Britain's Economist news magazine on its website.
Beyond the details of the pull-out, many critics remain concerned about Russia's new-found military assertiveness.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has put a brave face on the deal but refuses to accept the break-up of his country.
He has dropped pointed reminders of the ethnic cleansing of Georgians that took place especially in the rebel region of Abkhazia after the 1991 Soviet collapse, calling on Tuesday for ""justice for our country.""
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney also sounded far from happy, foreshadowing what some analysts say will be an inevitable economic downside for Moscow for having defied Washington.
""The international community is united in deploring Russia's military action and in condemning its unilateral efforts to alter by force Georgia's internationally recognized boundaries,"" Cheney said.
Emerson said Russia could partly restore international trust by negotiations it is taking part in to solve a separatist conflict in another ex-Soviet republic on Europe's edge: Moldova.
But equally he sees ""ominous"" signals from another ex-Soviet satellite Ukraine. Tensions have mounted there over Kiev's determination to join NATO and to eventually close the Russian navy's historical base in Crimea, a part of Ukrainian territory.
""The question is whether Russia goes on with a spoiling policy towards these two countries (Moldova and Ukraine),"" said Emerson.
London-based analyst Robert Ayers, of the research institute Chatham House, said Moscow would be hit in the pocket by a souring of international sentiment. That has already been reflected in massive outflows of capital and a plunge in Russia's stock markets.
He said Moscow's encouragement of separatism in Georgia would only embolden those in Russia who have toyed with separatist ideas themselves -- such as in Chechnya, which has endured two disastrous wars since the Soviet collapse.
While the Kremlin dismisses comparisons with Chechnya, Ayers believes Russia has opened a ""Pandora's box"" as regards separatism on its own territory.
""What Russia has done has been more the emotional knee-jerk than the considered response,"" he said.
Economic measures that the United States and others can take ""will hurt and they are being pursued,"" said Ayers, noting that Russian efforts to join the World Trade Organization could be derailed by the Georgia conflict.
In Georgia itself, analyst Giorgi Margvelashvili noted with understatement that Georgia faced a tougher task after the conflict in gaining an invitation to join NATO -- a goal that helped turn Moscow against the country.
Nonetheless, he managed to find a bright side: he argued that the conflict had alerted the EU to Russia's unreliability and would spur Western efforts to find alternative energy routes -- including through Georgia.
""Europe is convinced as never before that it needs urgently to diversify its energy supplies. This will undoubtedly foster Georgia's role as an energy transit corridor,"" said Margvelashvili of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs