After a tumultuous 2002, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has taken tentative steps to lower tensions with his country's largest neighbor, Russia. But while Russian President Vladimir Putin has reciprocated Shevardnadze's gestures, a number of sensitive issues still complicate efforts to build bilateral trust.
Throughout 2002, Russia accused Georgia of harboring terrorists answerable for crimes in Russia's war with Chechnya, and Georgia claimed that Russia violated its sovereignty under the guise of antiterrorist operations. [For background information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. On December 6, though, Georgia extradited alleged terrorist Yusuf Krymshamkhalov to Russia, which had accused him of complicity in terrorist attacks in Russian cities in September 1999. On December 28, Russia extradited two Georgian citizens, Vepkhiya Durglishvili and Soso Toriya, who have been suspected of involvement in a February 1998 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze. Two days later, Shevardnadze announced on national radio that he was normalizing relations with Russia under a gradual détente.
Despite Shevardnadze's statement, Moscow remains unhappy over Tbilisi's failure to hand over all suspected Chechen rebels. The day Shevardnadze proclaimed détente, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko insisted on immediate extradition of all detained militants from Georgia. Earlier in December, Russia's RIA news agency quoted Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of a Moscow think tank called Politika, as telling a roundtable audience that Russian businesses view Georgia as a "closed market
Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based specialist in CIS political affairs.