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Cablegate: Dfm Karasin On Georgia and U.S. Relations - Meeting

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1. (SBU) Summary: In a December 6 meeting with
Congressman Bill Delahunt and Congressman Dana
Rohrabacher, Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin conceded
Russia had lost the p.r. battle in the August conflict
with Georgia, but reiterated why Russia had been
compelled to respond militarily and then recognize South
Ossetia and Abkhazia. He welcomed changing assessments
of Saakashvili's role in the conflict and insisted Russia
sought "friendly, normal" relations with Georgia.
Karasin argued against "endless" discussions in Geneva,
and urged direct engagement between the parties --
Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- to resolve
practical questions. Emphasizing Russia's multiethnic
nature, Karasin said the principle of self-determination
was not "an idle question" for Russia. Karasin welcomed
more "realism" in U.S.-Russia relations, advocated the
rescinding of Jackson-Vanik as a signal that relations
would be based on mutual respect, flagged an end to NATO
enlargement and missile defense plan in Poland and the
Czech Republic as critical to future relations, and
agreed on the need for greater civilian nuclear
cooperation. Karasin was receptive to greater
cooperation on Afghanistan, but stressed that the U.S.
and Russia needed to "pre-cook" initiatives. End Summary

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Russia Falls Down on Hill

2. (SBU) In a 75-minute December 6 meeting with
Congressman Delahunt (D, Mass), Congressman Rohrabacher
(R, CA), and the Ambassador, Deputy Foreign Minister
Karasin welcomed parliamentary exchanges and expressed
appreciation for the work of the Ambassador, along with
the hope that Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Kislyak was
accorded the same access. Congressman Delahunt agreed on
the need to reinvigorate parliamentary dialogues and,
underscoring that the delegation did not speak for the
Administration, encouraged the GOR to "work the Hill"
more effectively. Noting that the August events in
Georgia had sparked his interest in traveling to Russia,
Congressman Delahunt commented that many legislators were
not familiar with the history of the dispute,
particularly given an agenda crowded by Iraq,
Afghanistan, and the Middle East, as well as the
challenges posed by the international economic crisis.
Congressman Delahunt noted that one positive side-effect
of the August conflict would be greater interest in U.S.-
Russian relations, and pointed to the upcoming delegation
visits led by Congressman Tauscher and Senator Lugar,
with Senator Kerry expected to travel to Russia in early
2009. As the allocators, the House of Representatives
would play a particularly important role, with
Congressman Rohrabacher noting that the Administration
had to seek additional funding for its initiatives with
Georgia. In response to Congressman Rohrabacher's
skepticism over the Administration's position towards
Georgia, Karasin replied that "I have to join your

Georgia: Saakashvili Tipped the Scales
--------------------------------------------- -----

3. (SBU) Karasin reviewed Russia's relations towards
the Caucasus, characterizing the U.S. and Russian policy
positions as "quite close" before the August conflict.
Karasin stressed that the U.S. and Russia had been united
in support of the peacekeeping process, in reaching long-
term settlements to the Georgia-South Ossetia and
Georgia-Abkhazia disputes, and in pushing the sides to
adopt a no-use-of-force pledge. Saakashvili's decision
to take South Ossetia "by storm" was irresponsible.
Noting that bloodshed in the Caucasus is a question "for
the ages," Karasin concluded that Saakashvili had
produced the "complete ruin" of Georgian aspirations for
territorial integrity. Russia, he said forcefully, had
no choice but to beat back the Georgian aggression,
preemptively destroy Georgian military infrastructure,
and recognize the conflict territories. Noting Russia's
restraint in not undertaking tit-for-tat recognition
post-Kosovo, Karasin blamed Saakashvili for upsetting the
policy balance. By spoiling relations with the U.S. and
EU (sic), and in destroying relations with Russia,
Karasin maintained that Saakashvili had ended Georgia's
chances for territorial integrity. Karasin termed the
December 5 firing of the Georgian foreign and defense
ministers as an effort to change the face of an
administration that had failed. At the same time,
Karasin welcomed the appointment of FM Vashadze and the
new Minister of Culture Abashidze, as "partners and

MOSCOW 00003615 002 OF 004


4. (SBU) Karasin stressed that Russia sought "normal,
friendly" relations with Georgia and would work to
overcome the "irresponsibility and stupidity" of the
Georgian government; however, the situation had changed
"cardinally" after August. Karasin called for greater
realism in Washington on this count. Congressman
Delahunt acknowledged that most Americans and most
members of Congress had paid insufficient attention to
the U.S.-Russia relationship, and expressed regret that
members did not fulfill their responsibility in that
regard. At the same time, he noted, Russia had failed to
make its case to the American public and U.S. Congress.
Congressman Delahunt contrasted Russia's performance to
Saakashvili's adroit media management and congressional
outreach. Karasin agreed that Saakashvili was smart, and
took Congressman Delahunt's point that the Georgian
President had used his personal relations in Washington
to effectively present Georgia's case, with Russia
"losing" the PR battle. Congressman Delahunt noted that,
after initially supporting Georgia, some members were
raising serious questions regarding Georgia's
performance, its human rights record, its support for
press freedom, and the temperament of Saakashvili. Over
time, Congressman Delahunt commented, a new view of
Georgia had emerged among key members in both the House
and Senate that was more skeptical of Saakashvili.
Congressman Delahunt speculated over the potential
consequences had Georgia been a member of NATO at the
time of the clash.

5. (SBU) In response to Congressman Delahunt's comment
that Russia's decision to recognize South Ossetia and
Abkhazia could have been deferred, Karasin replied that
practical politics dictated the policy shift. Karasin
said Russia had to demonstrate that a military attack by
Georgia was no longer possible. Before August 7,
Medvedev, Putin and FM Lavrov had emphasized that Russia
would pursue a "responsible and sober" line; after August
7, absent an "immediate and forceful" response, Georgia
would have been tempted to attack again. Congressman
Delahunt underscored that a resumption of military
conflict by Georgia would spell the end of support for
the Saakashvili government. If Saakashvili ignored the
Administration, as A/S Fried testified that Saakashvili
had done in not heeding U.S. warnings against the use of
military force in August, the U.S. would have to conclude
that Georgia did not take American interests into

6. (SBU) Karasin underscored the emotional element also
at play in Caucasus politics. The Causasus is "not
Central Europe or Holland," but a collection of
"emotional nations." Russia had been under pressure for
the last fifteen years by Russian political parties,
domestic political opinion, and the North Caucasus
republics, to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Successive Russian leaders had abstained, and Russia had
been prepared for a long-term, peaceful process resulting
in a unified Georgia. Russia wanted a good neighbor, not
a threat. Expressing appreciation for the blunt views
presented by the Congressmen on Saakashvili, Karasin
argued that had those blunt assessments come into play
two years earlier, "we would have had a different

7. (SBU) Karasin said the U.S. should convince Georgia
to focus on building responsible relations with South
Ossetia and Abkhazia, and reiterated his criticism of
Saakashvili. The Ambassador interjected that a focus on
who started the conflict would be inconclusive, and that
blame could be assigned to both sides, but that it was
imperative to use the Geneva talks to move ahead.
Keeping in mind the Russian warning over the nature of
Caucasus blood feuds, the Ambassador stressed the
importance of all parties sitting at the table and being
encouraged to move forward on resolving the issues
related to security and the internally displaced.
Karasin rejected Russian culpability and responded that
Geneva could not be "endless." While Russia would
participate in December, it wanted to work with the U.S.
and EU to get the parties -- Georgia, Abkhazia, and South
Ossetia -- to work together directly on practical
questions. Karasin commented that the South Ossetians
felt that they were being subjected to particular
international scrutiny, while Georgia needed to be pushed
to become more predictable. Commenting that it was
Russia's neighborhood and reiterating that he did not

MOSCOW 00003615 003.2 OF 004

represent the Administration nor the majority's view in
Congress towards Russia, Congressman Rohrabacher called
for Russia and Georgia to broker their differences
bilaterally, without U.S. interference. The Ambassador
agreed that this was not the Administration's position,
and said the Geneva talks showed the value of multilateral

Kosovo, Self-Determination, and Georgia

8. (SBU) Congressman Rohrabacher stressed his support
for the principle of self-determination and noted his
record of supporting Georgia's emergence as an
independent state under President Gamsakhurdia.
Congressman Rohrabacher argued that Kosovo's independence
-- which he had championed -- created a precedent that
did apply to the two breakaway republics, with Russia
acting in the right to recognize their aspirations.
Reiterating that it was important to be upfront about the
consequences of Kosovo, Congressman Rohrabacher commented
that recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was
reasonable. On the principle of self-determination,
Karasin said it was not an idle question for the Russian
leadership, given Russia's multiethnic makeup. Not only
were there national republics within Russia, Russia's
major cities all had multiethnic populations, with over
one million Georgians comprising a significant portion of
Russia's artistic and scientific elite. There were
compelling reasons not to recognize South Ossetia and
Abkhazia, Karasin admitted, but Georgian actions had
nullified them.

U.S.-Russian Relations: NATO, MD, Jackson-Vanik, 123
--------------------------------------------- ---------

9. (SBU) Congressman Delahunt stressed the importance
of lowering the rhetoric and reestablishing mutual
respect in U.S.-Russian relations. Noting his view that
Saakashvili was the aggressor in the August conflict,
Congressman Rohrabacher characterized the subsequent
U.S.-Russia confrontation as unfortunate and called for a
more frank dialogue, in order to move forward under a new
U.S. administration. Karasin agreed on the need to think
more expansively about the scope of U.S.-Russian
engagement. In response to Congressman Rohrabacher's
comments that Georgian membership in NATO would be
disastrous, Karasin stressed that it was a choice for
NATO members to make, nor for Georgia to decide. NATO
members should not play a game, he warned, but have to
take responsibility for what they set in motion for long-
term security. While NATO could absorb "one, then two,
and three states" from Russia's "sphere-of-influence" in
the short-term, in doing so it set in motion new problems
and tensions.

10. (SBU) Karasin commented that regardless of NATO-
Russia Council efforts, the Russian political and
military establishment still feared NATO and "no one can
kill that fear." When Gorbachev had proposed "new
thinking" about European security, the chance had been
lost. Karasin argued that a new generation of Russian
and U.S. military could arrive at a new understanding of
security. Congressman Rohrabacher added that the Georgia
crisis would be a catalyst for new thinking on NATO, with
his personal view that NATO was increasingly a Cold War
relic. Karasin clarified that Russia did not fear the
EU's expansion, and viewed politics based on economics in
a fundamentally different light. Nevertheless, Karasin
ruled out the possibility of Russia joining the EU,
commenting that inviting Russia would be akin to
swallowing an elephant; however, Russia sought
partnership with the EU. Congressman Rohrabacher
observed that with many EU markets frozen to Russian
companies, India and not China was the natural market.
Karasin agreed that "China is another story."

11. (SBU) Asked for ideas on how to demonstrate a new
U.S. approach to Russia, Karasin said that the most
important symbol of the current dysfunctional
relationship was Jackson-Vanik. While some officials
sought to "tease" Russia with new conditions for its
removal, if the U.S. were to unilaterally rescind it
without any negotiations, but as an "outright gesture,"
the Russian leadership and public would take notice.
Reviewing U.S. missile defense plans in Europe was
another issue that could transform U.S.-Russian
relations. "Is missile defense in Poland and the Czech
Republic really necessary? Who is the genius behind this

MOSCOW 00003615 004 OF 004

idea?" Arguing that current plans did not make the U.S.
safer, Karasin called for a return to the drawing board,
with Congressman Rohrabacher noting then-President
Reagan's vision of a joint U.S.-Russia missile defense

12. (SBU) Congressman Rohrabacher pointed to
cooperation in civilian nuclear energy ("123") as one
example where relations should be revitalized quickly and
highlighted the possibility of U.S.-Russian nuclear
cooperation in India. Noting his advocacy of the high
temperature-gas cooled reactor, which was developed by
Russian scientists, Congressman Rohrabacher commented
that the fact it did not produce weapons-grade waste made
it a preferred export model, including to countries like
Venezuela, where Russia had business interests.


13. (SBU) Explaining that his portfolio covered Central
Asia, Karasin queried the Congressmen on the "real
intentions" of the new Administration, including in
Afghanistan. Congressman Delahunt said that he expected
campaign promises to be honored, which would produce a
withdrawal from Iraq, with the exception of a residual
force, and a broadening of the dialogue on Iran. While
it would take time to reestablish diplomatic relations,
Congressman Delahunt noted that contacts existed between
Congress and the Iranian majlis that could be expanded.
In response to Congressman Rohrabacher's assessment that
the U.S. and Russia could do more together in
Afghanistan, Karasin agreed but said that cooperation
would need to be worked out in advance ("like they do in
the EU"). Wrapping up the meeting, Karasin said that if
the U.S. and Russia could "pre-agree" on initiatives,
they would be easier to implement, including with Kabul.


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