Thursday, March 12, 2009

Georgia …pro-Western country?

Nino Zhgenti

The FPC will be showcasing a range of different views from commentators across the Georgian political spectrum as part of it's 'Spotlight on Georgia' project.

Since the Rose Revolution, Georgia has launched an active, pro-Western policy with the clear objectives of NATO and EU integration. Despite an active promotion of democratic principles within Georgia during the last five years, there is still a lot of debate about the honesty of these intentions. Georgia has been experiencing serious problems in a number of fields, with the Government continually introducing new policies, reforms and laws that naturally would not favour everyone. Whilst there has been a positive impact in some fields like education, opposition parties still complain about a corrupt judicial system. Moreover, looking through the last five-years of reforms and protests in Georgia, there seems to be an increasing sense of aggravation amongst the Georgian population. Naturally, this situation does not immediately suggest that the reforms and laws that were passed throughout this period have been moving in the wrong direction. However, the increasing discontent can be interpreted as the result of the Georgian Government’s lack of diplomacy towards its own public.

Lack of diplomacy has not only been visible in internal affairs, but also in Georgia’s foreign policy. There has been, for example, clear instances of unethical and at times insulting rhetoric directed at Russia which should be mentioned. Many Georgian officials have seized every opportunity to make threatening statements towards President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin and the Russian Government. At first glance, it seems obvious that pro-Western Georgia, emboldened by the US support, was eager to rid of Russia’s influence as soon as possible. For these reasons, and in accordance with NATO and EU membership requirements, the goal was a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Unfortunately, what the world witnessed in South Ossetia (known to many Georgians as Samachablo region of Northern Georgia) was nothing approaching a peaceful resolution. In looking for the reasons and causes for this devastating war of August 2008, there are a variety of arguments that can and have been made. However, one thing is clear and that is that Russia’s attacks went far beyond the war zone as they bombed villages and strategic objectives that were a considerable distance from the immediate conflict zone.

In any case, it is quite obvious that despite its desire, Georgia will never be fully able to rid itself of Russian influence. Every country has its long-term goals and objectives in foreign policy, positioning its own state in a favourable way on the world stage. In planning for Russia’s future, the Russian Government definitely had, has and will have Georgia in mind. It is obvious that it is not so much about Georgia itself, but more about the games of world politics in which major actors like the US and Europe are involved and where small states like Georgia can only become subjects of interest when their strategic geographical locations are of immediate relevance. In other words, in comparison to the US who became interested in Georgia quite recently, Russia has always had political and economical calculations to make regarding the Caucasus region. Namely, one of those political calculations is the aforementioned policy regarding Georgia’s ambition to join NATO. If we look at a map of Russia’s western boundaries along the Baltic coast, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all are members of NATO. The only post-Soviet European countries which are not members of the military alliance are Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus. What makes matters even worse is that all of these states, except Belarus, are hoping for NATO membership. To many Russian politicians the tendency of NATO, which is at its heart a military organisation, toward integration of former Soviet countries might easily be interpreted as a threat to Russia.

Why does the US want NATO expansion? The first thing that might come to a Russian mind is that it could be to protect and to be used against Russia. However, at this point Europe is still partly dependent on its powerful neighbour for reasons such as energy, which means that it is difficult for certain NATO allies to be used against it. Obviously, this is a situation which Russia is keen to maintain. Apart from this, the fact that Georgia shares the border with a NATO member country, Turkey, might make Georgia even more desirable for its neighbour since in case of conflict with the US or other NATO member countries, it could provide a convenient place for strategic Russian military bases. As for economic interests, Georgia is at the juncture of Europe and Asia and naturally serves as a bridge between the North and East. It seems Russia is keen to benefit from this. There are Black Sea ports which might serve as potential routes for Russian controlled oil and gas pipelines. Furthermore, communications and pipelines linking Russia and Armenia run through Georgia. Hence, one would be naïve to think that Russia will be willing to give up Georgia so easily. So, was the whole Georgian policy towards Russia simply naivety, self-defence, miscalculation of the situation or the US initiation, it is hard to tell but it is clear that Russia seemed to achieve its goals.

In fact, Russia may well have benefited from the war in South Ossetia/Samachablo. Firstly, Georgia’s potential membership of NATO is postponed indefinitely. Secondly, Russia established its control over even more territories than those directly affected by conflict. Thirdly, the international community seems to view Georgia as the initiator of war, strengthening the Russian position. However, despite the critical perceptions of Georgia held by many in the West, politically, Russia still seems to have lost. Its actions on Georgian territory were interpreted as aggressive and disproportionate whilst international recognition of the breakaway regions was absent from everyone except Nicaragua. This should be alarming for Russia which is keen to occupy a respected and powerful position in World politics.

The extent of the potential conflict in the Georgian-Russian relationship is not limited to territorial disputes. Russia not only occupies Georgian territories but, according to Georgian media, it also exercises commercial influence over commodities such as water and electricity which are often controlled by companies with Russian ties. Moreover, appointing a Russian national as a Minister of Foreign Affairs after the August war caused further controversy in Georgian society. All this leads to the question: if the Russian Government is Georgia’s “enemy” and, as illustrated by the August conflict Russia has the power to achieve its goals, why is Russia being given even more power over Georgia?

From the current perspective, it seems that everything that happened in Georgia recently has made Russian control more stable and strong. Despite a hostile attitude between the leaders of the two countries at the time, there is every reason to assume that Russia might be comfortable with Saakashvili being in power. There is a difference between rhetoric and action and the events that have unfolded, whether completely intended or not, have for the meantime fulfilled Russia’s wishes with regard to Georgia.


Tamar said...

Very interesting article. The questions we all are actively pondering these says...although each of us might have different answers to them. Thank you Nino!!!

Tamar said...

Very interesting article. The questions we all are actively pondering these says...although each of us might have different answers to them. Thank you Nino!!!