Putin’s bizarre choice: Russian President’s first meetings with foreign leaders will be with the Presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The first meetings of the newly installed Russian President Vladimir Putin with foreign leaders are going to be with the Presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Kremlin announced that Putin will meet with his Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday and Saturday. The decision reflects what many consider to be a paradox in Russian foreign policy that often swings from pragmatic realism to bizarre surrealism.

In an Executive order issued immediately after he re-assumed office as president of the Russian Federation on Monday, Vladimir Putin  outlined the direction to be followed by the country’s Foreign Ministry. In it he highlighted Russian support for the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Of all the steps taken by Russia since the crisis with Georgia in August 2008, the Russian unilateral recognition of the two territories is the most controversial. Putin personally pushed for the recognition, despite some concerns in other parts of the Russian government of possible impact on other situations in which Russia was engaged with it, as well as on the viability of the two entities, particularly South Ossetia. The policy has now become one of Putin’s pet areas, and he is proving this by meeting the leaders of the two territories this weekend in Sochi, before meeting any other foreign leader. Putin earlier cancelled his participation in the G8 Summit in the United States citing a busy schedule during the formation of the new Russian Government.

Whilst many in Russia will be asking if their President is getting his priorities right, the decision reflects Putin’s own obsession with the issue and his willingness to deal another snub to the Georgian leader Mikhael Saakashvili. Relations between the two have deteriorated to the point where the only contact is now through exchange of personal insults. On Tuesday, Putin congratulated the Georgian people on the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War in which Georgians played a key role, but did not send a similar message to President Saakashvili. By meeting the Abkhaz and Ossetian leaders prior to meeting any other world leader Putin is sending a clear signal that there is not going to be any reversal of the recognition of the two entities and of a continued tough line with Georgia.

Later today, Putin and Abkhaz President Alexander Ankvab are expected to visit the Velyoloye-Adler checkpoint at the Russian-Abkhaz border which recently opened after reconstruction and will later hold discussions on a number of bilateral and regional issues. Ankvab’s visit to Sochi will come the day after Russian and Abkhaz security services claimed to have uncovered a terror plot targeting the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. The Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said on Thursday that three men suspected of being ringleaders in a regional cell of the North Caucasus-based “Caucasus Emirate” had been arrested in Abkhazia on May 4-5 on suspicion of plotting an attack. Police also seized their weapons arsenal, which included three man-portable surface-to-air missiles, two anti-tank guided rockets, a mortar, a flamethrower and other weaponry.

On Saturday, Putin will host South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov in Sochi. The two presidents are likely to discuss issues related to South Ossetia’s social and economic development.

Source: LINKS Analysis

Photo: President Vladimir Putin at the Victory Day parade in Moscow on 9 May 2012 (picture courtesy of the kremlin press Service).

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