During his report to Parliament, President Mikheil Saakashvili announced that Georgia is unilaterally ending its visa regime with Russia. Moscow responded to this act of goodwill on March 2, by offering to restore diplomatic relations. The Russian government may believe that Saakashvili's decision is a sign that Tbilisi is accepting the "new reality" of the region, but Georgia is still standing firm behind its demand to see the de-occupation process started before relations with Russia can be normalized.
Russian-Georgian relations are tragi-comic. The leaders of both countries speak in harsh tones, and create an image of the two countries as sworn enemies. Yet both governments also express their sympathy towards those citizens caught in the middle. President Saakashvili, while announcing the visa-free regime, underlined that the decision was targeted towards ordinary Russians, separate from their government.
If we dig into history, we find that there was no visa regime in the '90s, when Georgia was a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. But in 2000, Putin threatened to impose visas between the two countries, because Georgia did not support Russia in its war against Chechnya. After following through on that threat, Russia also imposed an embargo on Georgian products in 2006. Just two years later, Moscow invaded its southern neighbour and today occupies one-fifth of Georgian territory.
None of these steps have inspired Georgia to move closer to Russia. On the contrary, Tbilisi is more politically distanced from Moscow than ever before. In response to Saakashvili's termination of the visa requirement, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement that proposed Georgian accept the "new reality" of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and then Russia, too, would move to a visa-free regime. Such a suggestion is not the first one from the Russian side. The Kremlin regularly repeats that it was not Russia that ceased diplomatic relations, putting on a false naivete. How one nation could pretend not to understand why another, invaded by its neighbour and stripped of 20% of its territory, refuses diplomatic relations is absurd.
Saakashvili responded to Russia’s offer by stating that diplomatic relations will be restored with Moscow as soon as it recognizes Georgia as an integrated sovereign state, within its internationally recognized borders, and the two illegal Russian embassies in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali are closed.
Georgians of all political stripes are unanimous in their belief that Georgian-Russian relations should be regulated on the basis of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity, with the return of internally-displaced persons to their homes. Moscow, meanwhile, connects restoration of diplomatic relations with recognition by Georgia of their "new reality" – and it is unlikely that in the near future their attitude will change.