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Never-Ending Ethnic Conflicts in Georgia

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Georgia has been home to numerous ethnic conflicts since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even today, their effects are seen and felt in the country. The Russo-Georgian War in 2008 reminded us again that the ethnic conflicts of the region are like time bombs waiting for the trigger to explode. 

It can be said that currently, there are two main ethnic conflicts in the region: South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. As it will be shown later in the paper, both conflicts were mainly caused by the Soviet leader’s decisions of setting artificial borders without taking the ethnicities into account. Or they may have considered the existence of different ethnicities but set the borders to exercise power by the divide et impera method. Regardless of their true intentions, the conflicts seem to have taken their roots from those decisions. According to Céline Francis, as the Soviet Union became more open and slightly more transparent under Gorbachev, dissatisfied ethnic groups had the opportunity to express their concerns towards the end of the Soviet Union. As a result, the ethnic groups caused widespread chaos across the region of which the effects can still be seen. 

The Abkhazia Conflict

Abkhazia is a region located in the country of Georgia. In fact, early Muslim sources used the terms AbkhaziaAbkhaz, or Afkhaz instead of Georgia or Georgians. Abkhazia has 6 regions, and its population consists of various nationalities. Abkhazians have a long history, and even several Greek philosophers and historians have mentioned them. The nation has been able to keep its traditions and has always seen itself as a separate one. Although it has several reasons, one of the main reasons has been the location. Its location has protected Abkhazia from attacks from other nations and enabled it to preserve the culture. Throughout history, the Abkhazians have played important roles in the affairs of the Caucasus. 

Following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which saw Russian armies’ withdrawal from the Caucasus, the Menshevik Georgian government took control of Abkhazia in 1918. With the Abkhazians’ opposition, the Independent Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia was established on March 31, 1921. The SSRs of Georgia and Abkhazia, which were formed in December 1921, signed a union agreement and shared equal status in the Soviet Union’s formation. The Georgia-Abkhazian Federation was a part of the Transcaucasian Union until 1931. However, the Soviet Union started a campaign of Georgianization in Abkhazia and replaced the names of Abkhazian places with Georgian names. It is known that both Joseph Stalin and his police chief Lavrentiy Beria were against the idea of an independent Abkhazia. The campaign became even more obvious when Beria was in power. With his orders, several Abkhazian intellectuals were removed, education in Abkhazian was banned, and speaking in Abkhazian was prohibited. As a part of the campaign, thousands of Georgians were moved to Abkhazia in order to prevent Abkhazians from being the majority there. Having realized the plan, Abkhazia strengthened its relations with Russia and asked to be a part of it, although Russia turned a blind eye to that request. In 1989, 30,000 Abkhazians signed a declaration that stated their intention of having their status back. This declaration naturally angered Georgia, and small-scale armed conflicts occurred between the Georgians and the Abkhazians.

When the Soviet Union started to decline, the Abkhazians started to worry about Abkhazia’s autonomy. An independent Georgia would certainly try to take its autonomy, and therefore, the Abkhazians wanted the Soviet Union to remain. No matter what they wanted, the USSR disintegrated, and Georgia became independent. As expected, the new Georgian leader, Gamsakhurdia tried to continue the Georgianization and Christianization campaigns, but Abkhazians expressed their concerns. In 1992, Abkhazia was declared to be a sovereign state. It even sent an invitation to Georgia for bilateral relations. However, Georgia was not pleased at all. Therefore, immediately after the declaration, Georgia started large-scale military operations in Abkhazia. Although the Georgian army had impressive success at the beginning of the war, the Abkhazians resisted until the end; neither side had a victory in the end. A truce agreement was signed at the end of the war, and the deal involved Russia, Georgia, and Abkhazia. Later, the UN was involved in the issue but failed to approach from the perspectives of both sides. After series of wars, several peace deals, and the placement of peacekeepers, Georgian and Abkhazian leaders came together with leaders of international organizations to discuss the future. Although the meeting was the largest one since the war in 1993, it did not lead to a definite conclusion. A year later, the Abkhazians expressed their intentions to have their own independent state. It should be noted that Abkhazians had never ceased to request for an independent country since the war. However, the UN did not accept their requests because that would make the situation worse.

At the beginning of 2001, another step was taken in the name of the betterment of relationships. Once again, both Georgia and Abkhazia agreed to not use force against each other and to show mutual understanding. However, in the same year, the Russian army bombed a region which was belonging to Abkhazia and under the control of Georgia. Georgian leaders expressed their concerns and stated that they did not want the Russian peacekeepers to stay in their region. However, Russia did not listen and decided to pass a new regulation which would allow former Soviet nations to join the Russian Federation in case the nation itself wants it. The regulation is still threatening Georgia because as mentioned above, Abkhazians had wanted to be a part of Russia and had expressed their preference to stay in the Soviet Union in the past. Amid the heightening tensions with Russia, Georgia became closer to the United States. 

In 2008, Russia officially recognized Abkhazia which contributed to the worsening of relationships with Georgia. Since then, the situation has remained almost the same. Georgia still tries to keep Abkhazia under control, while Abkhazia tries to get other countries to recognize itself.

The South Ossetia Conflict

Ossetia consists of two separate regions: South Ossetia and North Ossetia. While South Ossetia belongs to Georgia, the latter belongs to the Russian Federation. Similar to the Abkhazians, there are several theories on the origin of the Ossetians. Nevertheless, it is known that the Ossetians have started building close relations with the Georgians since the 1st century. Their relations with Russia date back to the 18th century, which was mainly caused by the strengthening of Russia in the Caucasus. Interestingly, at that time, the Ossetians revealed their intention of being a part of Russia which did not accept it on the grounds that doing so would anger the Ottoman Empire and Iran. Nonetheless, they agreed upon that the Ossetians would support Russia during wartime and spread Orthodoxy among their population, whereas Russia would do a favor in terms of trade. In 1774, following a four-year war, the Ottomans and Russians signed a treaty that gave the entire Ossetia to the Russian Empire. That was what the Ossetians had been longing for. In the 19th century, Russia decided to give the southern part of Ossetia to Georgian feudal landowners.

It was only after the Soviet Union’s creation that South Ossetia was officially given to Georgia, and North Ossetia was given to Russia. Both regions were supposed to be autonomous regions.  It should be noted that the event is still the main cause of the Ossetia conflict.

There was almost no problem during the period between the creation of the USSR and its collapse. Since all regions, including both South and North Ossetia, belonged to the Soviet Union, nationalistic movements were not needed, and people were not encouraged to protest about anything. However, towards the end of the Soviet Union, Georgia showed signs of its desire to take total control of South Ossetia. In 1988, the country passed a law to make Georgian the official language in all parts of the country, including South Ossetia. This led to worsening relations between the two. A year later, the South Ossetians aimed to unite with North Ossetia and stop South Ossetia from being a part of Georgia. The South Ossetians even asked Abkhazians to cooperate. This would be a great concern for Georgian leaders, and therefore, military confrontations began in the region in 1989. A year later, the South Ossetians wanted to be an independent country in the Soviet Union, but their request was not accepted. To heighten tensions, Georgia decided that it does not want to see South Ossetia as an autonomous region. As a result, Georgia was condemned both by the Ossetians and the Soviet Union. Subsequently, large-scale and long-lasting military operations started, and thousands of people died. Meanwhile, the Ossetians were reiterating their request to unite, and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) was supporting them.

In 1992, the first truce was signed between the Russian Federation and Georgia. The truce and the future deals were aimed to place peacekeepers from Georgia, Russia, and both North and South Ossetia. A year later, Georgia and Russia agreed to invest in South Ossetia to get it recovered from the effects of the war. Georgia was attempting to publicize the issue and attract global organizations because it was still concerned about the existence of Russian soldiers in the region. However, except for the OSCE, no organization took responsibility. Its existence in the region was very effective. Until 2002, there was almost no disagreement or any concerning issues. Peace was maintained, and almost all of the agreements were aimed to improve relations. In 2002, Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders decided to cooperate against Georgia and have Russia’s support. Two years later, South Ossetians asked to join Russia, but President Vladimir Putin stated that it was the internal affair of Georgia and that Russia could not do anything. However, in the same year, Russia moved additional armed forces to South Ossetia. After Georgia’s warnings, Russia denied moving troops to the region.

Later, as a consequence of the arrest of several Georgian peacekeepers, military confrontations began. Although the military confrontations stopped for a while following a truce, the sides started fighting again. In 2005, Georgia approved a declaration that would make Russian peacekeepers leave the region. Although it was beneficial for Georgia, the South Ossetians did not find the deal very helpful because they had always considered Russia as their protector. Nevertheless, the deal also benefitted South Ossetia through other means.

In 2007, the relations between Georgia and Russia worsened again. The main reason was Russia’s decision of letting the residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia participate in the elections of Russia. Georgia expressed concern when the decision was made, and it refused to accept the 2008 elections of Russia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In 2008, when it was clear that Kosovo would declare independence, Russia told the West that it would need to make changes in its policies towards both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Immediately after Kosovo declared independence, the South Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders went to Moscow and talked about their independence.

Naturally, in a period of heightened tensions, military conflicts started in South Ossetia and Georgia border. South Ossetians had already declared their independence (without Georgia’s approval), and Georgia realized that the only way to deter them was conducting military operations. Now, it would not be expected of Russia to stay silent in the face of such an important action taken by Georgia. Russia warned Georgia and told it to stop the operations. Later, Georgian President Saakashvili announced that the country was going for a large-scale war and asked every young man to be ready to protect the motherland. At the same time, Russian President Medvedev complained about how his people were being killed in Georgia. A few minutes later, Russian armed forces entered South Ossetia. Although a lot of countries and organizations called both sides to have peace, they did not listen in the beginning. On August 12, 2008, Russia agreed to sign a temporary truce agreement and pull its troops out of the region. Russia would later remove its troops from Georgia but continue its peacekeeping activities in South Ossetia. Two weeks later, Russia recognized the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was condemned by various global organizations for recognition. Other than Russia, four other states, namely Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Syria, recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and sovereign states.

The Future of the Conflicts

The world is full of ethnic conflicts and almost none of them seem to be resolved in the near future. One of the main reasons is that artificial borders that have been drawn by others without taking ethnicities into account always keep those ethnicities dissatisfied. Unless the demographic distributions of those ethnicities change drastically, the enmity and dissatisfaction remain intact. Several parts of the world, including Africa and the Middle East, abound with examples. For example, it is known that the European colonialists drew border lines in Africa to distribute resources among themselves. It is not surprising then they have not considered the ethnicities who lived there. The artificial borders caused numerous enemy nations to live in the same country. Today, we still realize its effects. The current situations in Ethiopia and other countries are the direct results of the artificial borderlines. Unfortunately, those issues have not been resolved yet, and it seems they will not be resolved peacefully.

Whether it is in the Middle East, Africa, or the Caucasus, an ethnic conflict is extremely difficult to resolve. Unlike most other types of conflicts, the concept of  “ethnicity” creates a very strong sense of “us” and “others” even before the conflict begins. The issue becomes more of an issue of pride rather than a mere conflict of calculated interests.

This also explains why conflicts like the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have not ended without bloody wars. In addition to the factors mentioned above, the Caucasus involves another major factor: the existence of a major power bloc, Russia.

Interestingly, almost any conflict in the Caucasus involves Russia, at least to a certain degree. This is not unusual or surprising because all dominant powers have attempted to be involved in major issues of their region in the past. However, the reason it is mentioned here is that the involvement of any other major power bloc as a third-party makes ethnic conflicts less likely to be resolved. The resolution of such conflicts means the major power would have fewer opportunities to exercise power and keep others under control. It is especially important in the case of Georgia because Georgia wants to join international organizations such as the EU or NATO. We should remember that when Angela Merkel discussed the application of Georgia to NATO with Vladimir Putin in 2008, she stated that it was impossible because the organization would not accept a country with regional or internal issues. This meant as long as the issues of Georgia are kept alive, the country is unlikely to be a NATO member. Therefore, the conflicts in  Georgia can be expected to linger for a long time.

Ali Mammadov is pursuing Master of Arts in International Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and has earned his bachelor's degree in Finance and Economics from George Washington University.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania is on a slippery slope hosting NATO troops



nato exercise

As Lithuania not only calls on NATO partners to increase military presence on its territory, the authorities also allocate large sum of money to develop national military infrastructure.  

Thus, the Ministry of National Defence is implementing an infrastructure development project in preparation for hosting the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. The contract was signed by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency as the project coordinator and Merko Statyba UAB.  

As a result, 10 buildings will be constructed to house barracks, mess-hall, vehicle repair facility, helipads, multipurpose facility, etc. The work is planned to be completed by 2026. The assessed worth of the contract is over EUR 110 million. 

According to Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anušauskas, Lithuania is developing infrastructure to strengthen deterrence and defence. 

But this large-scale project does not look like a defensive one. Completion of the project will make the Pabradė Training Area capable of hosting up to 3 thousand military personnel and one of the most developed military ranges in the Baltics! It will ensure good conditions for training activities and resting, as well as logistical and technical support.  

It is just one of the several Lithuanian Armed Forces modernization projects the Ministry of National Defence is implementing with coordination by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. 

The question arises if Lithuania considers the Ukrainian crisis lasts for 3 more years or authorities try to hide the real purpose of the modernization efforts. 

In fact such plans will not help Lithuania to defend itself in near future because the project to be finished only by 2026.  

The more so, at the end of February Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis confirmed that there is no direct military threat at Lithuania’s border. 

It could be concluded that Lithuania or its NATO partners considers Lithuania’s military infrastructure as a starting point for any offensive operations, which could jeopardize complex relationships with neigbours. 

It is well known that most interstate wars are fought or begin between neighbors. These steps will make it harder for Lithuania to improve relations and even could re-start an arms race and threaten seriously the stability of the region. It is quite evident that ordinary residents do not need such consequences of political decisions. On the other hand, authorities insist on further militarization of Lithuania and thus complicate the prospects for normalizing relations with neighbors bring the war closer.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia in a New World: Between Russia and the West



When Russia’s special military operation commenced in Ukraine a year ago, not too many countries have surprised Moscow to the upside by their attitudes to the global changes. However, this was the case with Georgia. While the country is obviously harboring ambitions of a Euro-Atlantic integration, with its political forces competing for love of the West, Tbilisi has nevertheless rejected the option of a sanctions war with Russia.

Georgia stunned everyone already on February 25, when Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, after calling upon the international community to do whatever it takes to stop the fighting, announced that Tbilisi would not join the West’s financial and economic sanctions against Russia. As the U.S. and EU anti-Russian sanctions packages were approved, Georgia clarified its position: the country complies with all international restrictions to avoid being hammered by the Collective West, but it chooses not to impose any restrictions on its trade with Russia, unlike many other states.

As a result, Georgia lived almost the same way in 2022, as other partners and allies of Russia, struggling not to be hit by secondary sanctions or disclose its help to Russia in circumventing the restrictions. Transport links have not been severed, economic contacts keep expanding, and we could even talk about a heyday in Russian-Georgian relations in the midst of the SMO. Georgia is only different from Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan and other states close to Moscow in that Tbilisi formally supports all anti-Russian international documents, taking sides with the U.S. and the EU at every vote in the UN—because the government of Mr. Garibashvili has not yet renounced its European aspirations.

A Pre-February Georgia

In order to understand how Georgia manages to combine a pro-Western course with its defiance of anti-Russian injunctions by the U.S. and the EU (which commands nothing but respect, according to Sergey Lavrov), it is necessary to recall the dynamics transpiring in the Russia-Georgia-West triangle on the eve of February 24, 2022.

The modern Georgian state has existed for little more than 10 years. On October 1, 2012, the “Georgian Dream” party, closely associated with the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the parliamentary elections against President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), ending Saakashvili’s nine-year rule. Back in 2010, the leader of the “Rose Revolution” introduced amendments to the Georgian constitution that significantly limited the powers of the president, since he planned to rule the country indefinitely as prime minister after his two presidential terms, but—given to the defeat of the UNM in the elections—he lost power overnight.

Mr. Ivanishvili established his “Georgian Dream” with the express purpose of snatching power from Saakashvili and transferring it to less “noxious” and more efficient managers, to transform Georgia in a “nation with human features” – nothing less, nothing more. The “Georgian Dream” political agenda differed from the UNM program by its moderate approach, but not by the strategy: Ivanishvili retained aspiration for the EU and NATO membership in the country’s foreign policy, intensifying full-fledged cooperation with both organizations, and he did not give up claims on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The billionaire only wanted to save Georgia—and probably himself—from Mikheil Saakashvili, so as soon as the embattled president fled the country before his tenure expired, Ivanishvili retreated into the shadow of Georgian politics again, handing over the post of prime minister to the 31-year-old Irakli Garibashvili.

Moderation in the Georgian Dream’s foreign policy choices was primarily reflected in the resumption of trade with Russia, which had been suspended when Saakashvili was in power. Moscow predictably welcomed the arrival of a more sagacious leader in Georgia and responded favorably to Ivanishvili’s initiative to set up a bilateral format for discussing the issues that do not pertain to the political agenda at the Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in Transcaucasia. As early as December 2012, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgian Prime Minister’s special envoy Zurab Abashidze started a multi-year dialogue on bilateral issues in Geneva (the venue was later moved to Prague). In January 2013, Ivanishvili had a brief meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the Economic Forum in Davos, stressing that Tbilisi intended to restore relations with Moscow.

In the same year, Georgian companies returned to Russia, with Russian companies returning to Georgia. Ivanishvili acted as pragmatically as possible: it was necessary to put aside the hard-to-resolve political issues and reconstruct the ties with Russia destroyed by Saakashvili, wherever possible. True, no resumption of diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow could be expected in the foreseeable future (which is true even now, 10 years later), but Georgia is a small state, lying far away from the centers of power towards which it gravitates, while bordering on such a huge power as Russia. Tbilisi simply cannot afford either to stay in conflict with Moscow or shut itself off from the Russian market. Saakashvili’s anti-Russian games were pure madness, which naturally culminated in the Five-Day War of 2008, so Ivanishvili wanted Georgia to get back to the path of prudence.

Thus, at the end of 2012, the new Georgian state conceptually separated the two tracks in its relations with Russia: political and economic—never to mix them again. Georgia voted for all anti-Russian steps taken by the West after the coup d’état in Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014, but it did not impose any economic restrictions on its trade with Russia. On the contrary, during the years of initial Western sanctions pressure on Russia, Russian-Georgian trade turnover kept steadily growing, peaking at $1.355 billion in 2018 during the pre-Covid era. On the European track, Tbilisi successfully signed the Euro-Association agreement in 2014, entering the visa-free travel regime with the EU in 2017, looking forward to the prospect of becoming a candidate for EU membership after the European Commission’s conditions have been met. Prudence allowed Georgia to achieve a win-win outcome as it maintained normal relations with both Russia and the West.

In fact, under the “Georgian Dream”, the Caucasian Republic used any chance to strengthen its positions. As the only open East-West route in South Caucasus amidst the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and given the tense relations between Tehran and Baku, Georgia ensured its participation in global economic projects such as the Southern Gas Corridor, which helps the EU import Azerbaijani gas (11.5 bcm in 2022), and the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railroad (432 thousand tons of cargo carried over it in 2022). The BTK became Georgia’s entry ticket to China’s interregional transport projects (One Belt, One Road and the Middle Corridor) due to the possibility of transporting freights by rail from Baku to both Turkey and Georgian ports. Tbilisi entered the turbulent 2020s as a successful regional state focused on national interests and mutually beneficial cooperation with everyone.

Factor of Saakashvili

The irritating factors that Georgia has had to face in its foreign policy are also worth mentioning. All of them revolve around the figure of the former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Having fled the country in 2013, he has not given up his claim to power in Georgia, even though he has no legitimate tools to regain it. His United National Movement (UNM) lost most of the electorate to become a convenient target for the Georgian Dream, which in its first four years explained all problems faced by Georgia due to failures of the Saakashvili regime. When it became clear to analysts and ordinary citizens that the Dream itself was not working very effectively, the ruling force confronted them with an alternative: “either us or Saakashvili”, which literally meant a call to choose the lesser of two evils.

After taking a vacation, obtaining a Ukrainian passport and getting a job as chairman of the Odessa Region’s Administration, Mikheil Saakashvili set out to create problems for the “Georgian Dream”. It should be noted that the politician’s extravagant behavior created more problems for himself and his party, because people voted less and less for the UNM (65 seats in parliament in 2012, 27 seats in 2016, 36 seats in the coalition with four other parties in 2020). The former president, however, apparently saw some sense in pure sabotage. Moreover, we are not talking about a regular information campaign against the “Georgian Dream” in the media under Saakashvili’s control, but about much more serious actions.

First, the UNM resorted to anti-Russian provocations, using any Russian-Georgian contacts as a pretext to foment protests and unrest. It became commonplace to falsely accuse the Georgian Dream of being pro-Russian and to hold rallies under those banners. The most successful provocation was an aggressive escapade against Russian delegates in the Georgian parliament during the session of Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, held on June 20, 2019. Then UNM members picketed the rostrum and disrupted the work of the General Assembly. The Russian delegates had to be escorted out of the building, and a large-scale rally was organized in the evening, with Saakashvili’s associates instigating the protesters to siege the parliament, demanding resignation for Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, Interior Minister George Gakharia and the government at large.

As a result, the next day Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending air communication with Georgia starting on July 8. It could be resumed about two years ago soon after Georgia had lifted Covid restrictions, but on April 1, 2021 the UNM attacked Russian TV host Vladimir Pozner, who arrived in Tbilisi to celebrate his birthday. Because the local authorities cannot guarantee the safety of any Russian citizen (being also aware that Saakashvili’s close associates attack media people and politicians rather than ordinary Russians), Russian carriers abstain from flying to the Republic for the time being, even though a restart of flights is currently negotiated.

Second, Georgia began to receive “unpleasant signals” from the European Union. In the European structures, especially in the EuroParliament, Saakashvili retained quite a strong lobby, which started to put pressure on the Georgian government on all uncomfortable issues—from the fact that the Republic is essentially led by Bidzina Ivanishvili hiding in the shadows, with characterless successive prime ministers George Kvirikashvili, Mamuka Bakhtadze, Georgiy Gakharia and Irakli Garibashvili being just his puppets, to the fact that the majority electoral system allows the “Georgian Dream” to secure most seats in parliament even if defeated in the general elections. Ivanishvili had no such lobby in the EU, so the list of demands placed on Tbilisi by Euro-bureaucrats was steadily expanding.

The UNM acted as an inventor of a false agenda, especially after its defeat at the 2020 parliamentary elections. The party announced that it would not recognize the results of the vote, refused to enter parliament and launched infinite protests. The UNM rallies before and after the elections were never numerous, but the Saakashvili-controlled media presented each of them as yet another outbreak of popular anger against the authorities, while EU lobbyists conveyed the fabricated picture of those events to the very top. Nothing dangerous was really happening in Georgia, but Brussels got the impression that the country had lost stability because of the imperfect political system. As a result, the “Georgian Dream” was forced to sign the Charles Michel plan to resolve the internal political crisis, which did not exist in reality, even though the UNM rejected the document anyway.

Later, the Charles Michel plan had to be revoked due to the apparent unwillingness of Saakashvili’s associates to do anything but imitating the wobbling of the country, and the former president then dealt Georgia his final blow. On October 1, 2021, nine years after his loss of power, he was detained in Tbilisi and placed in prison. Saakashvili was returning to the country, firmly knowing that he would immediately be arrested on account of the criminal cases filed against him, but he did it anyway. For the “Georgian Dream”, his arrest became a new problem. The politician went on hunger strike, and his entourage stuck to their proven pattern, as it did earlier with the UNM rallies, fanning the scandal of their leader’s serious illness and the need to let him out of jail and out of the country. The European officials supporting him became even angrier with Tbilisi.

Georgia in February

So, Georgia met February 24, 2022 in the following situation with regard to its foreign policy: the course towards Euro-Atlantic integration saw both successes (agreement on Euro-Association and visa-free regime with the EU) and problems (the opposition used its lobby in the European institutions to create a false picture of the internal political situation and legality in the Republic), with the country having no prospects of joining NATO because of the claims to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Yet, the country is involved in the Alliance’s programs, modernizing the army and infrastructure to the NATO standards.

The course towards economic and humanitarian contacts with Russia continues. Here, too, there are successes (steadily growing turnover) and problems (the opposition used provocations to halt air communication between the two nations). Besides, there are no prospects of restoring diplomatic relations with Russia because of the same claims.

The course for the broadest possible economic interaction as Georgia develops mutually beneficial ties with all neighboring states, as well as with extra-regional states participating in projects that transit the territory of Georgia.

Obviously, Georgia was faced with a difficult choice, unlike many other states, on the day when Russia started its special military operation in Ukraine. On the one hand, the EU dragging its feet with making Tbilisi a candidate for EU membership, preferred to deal with fake Georgian crises, expecting immediate solidarity with all anti-Russian decisions from the Georgian government, offering it the carrot of a “candidate status” as an encouragement. On the other hand, Russia will hardly even notice Georgia’s individual sanctions, whereas Russia’s potential all-out retaliation could be very painful for the small country.

The practice introduced by Bidzina Ivanishvili back in 2012 that entails separating the political and economic tracks in its relations with Russia greatly relieved the stress faced by the Georgian government. Neither Brussels nor Moscow expected it, but when Tbilisi was confronted with picking the right posture in the new stand-off between Russia and the West, it already had an answer: political denunciation of Russia’s invasion should not affect bilateral economic ties with its northern neighbor. The choice was made not in favor of Russia and not in favor of the West, but in favor of Georgia and its national interests. This is the reason behind Moscow’s appreciation of the way Tbilisi answered to the challenge: the Georgian authorities have their national interests in mind, as a sovereign state, which for the Russian leadership is the norm of healthy international relations.

A Post-February Georgia

The West made Georgia pay a price for the country’s refusal to impose individual sanctions against Russia. This is what it does to any country that prefers sovereignty to external control. With Georgia always complying with all European requirements in respect of reforms, Ursula von der Leyen still said on June 17, 2022 that the European Commission would not recommend granting the Republic a candidate status at the forthcoming EU summit, in contrast to Moldova and Ukraine, which will be honored with this status. This is exactly what happened: Moldova and Ukraine became candidates, while Georgia received a list of 12 mandatory points that it should work on. Some of them were clearly added by the same Saakashvili lobby—above all, we are talking about the requirement of weaning oligarchs off power (that is, depriving Bidzina Ivanishvili of unspoken control over the government) and about the mandated aspiration for the “political cohesion of society” (which can never be achieved under the provocative strategy of the UNM).

Perhaps, the bitterest pill to swallow for Tbilisi was that Brussels gave the candidate status to Chisinau, a nation that also refused to impose individual sanctions against Russia. This detail was also the most telling: the EU showed the distinction it makes between countries under its control and states defending their sovereignty. Moldova gained EU candidate status because President Maia Sandu’s regime is informally subservient to Brussels and the Moldovan authorities did not decide on their own what they were going to do in the new world. Instead, they asked European officials for permission—similar to EU member states requesting exemptions from the next sanctions package. Georgia, unlike Moldova, behaved too independently and was punished with a “penalty loop”.

For Tbilisi, this was a rather unpleasant but not a shock price to pay for maintaining economic ties with Moscow. The authorities acted prudently once again, and they accepted the 12 additional conditions from Brussels, while sharply intensifying business contacts with the Russian Federation. The Russian-Georgian trade turnover in 2022 increased by 50% year-on-year, reaching USD 2.5 billion, a new record for bilateral trade. This January, Russia topped the list of Georgia’s trading partners for the first time, overtaking Turkey; and its share in Georgian export-import reached 18% (USD 263.6 million).

The message from Brussels was augmented by Kiev that demanded from Tbilisi to show anti-Russian solidarity by opening a “second front” against Russia, restarting hostilities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is unclear how much of this demand was a military calculation and how much was a continuation of Tbilisi’s punishment for waiving the sanctions. The Georgian army only numbers 37,000 men, while the Russian Southern Military District alone has a 70,000-strong contingent on the borders. After the Five-Day War, only Saakashvili’s men allowed for the possibility of new engagements, while that was simply at odds with the national strategy under Ivanishvili and the broader consensus in Georgia. That is why in April, when the idea of the “second front” was first voiced, Irakli Garibashvili immediately rejected it. This repudiation might also have contributed to Georgia’s denial of EU candidate status.

What 2022 meant for Georgia

The most accurate word to describe Georgia’s foreign policy is stability, which is how the Republic tried to get through 2022—in a balanced way, seeking to minimize losses and increase profits. The EU remains discontent about Georgia not imposing individual sanctions against Russia, but ramping up trade volumes with its northern neighbor instead. However, it does not refuse to cooperate with the Georgian authorities, all European and NATO programs are still in force for the country, and Tbilisi is patiently fulfilling the new 12 conditions in pursuance of the EU candidate status. European Commission’s February Report on Georgia is generally positive, but the Saakashvili lobby keeps working. Now, European officials insist on letting him go abroad for treatment, and the EU foreign policy service directly threatens Tbilisi with sanctions for the possible restoration of air links with Russia.

In other words, the carrot and stick policy in relation to Georgia continues. The Georgian authorities are thankful for carrots and endure the stick, but they do not agree to steps against Russia that could harm their country. Irakli Garibashvili summed up the year 2022 for the Republic at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. When the moderator asked him about the impact of the special military operation on Georgia, the politician said nothing about the growing trade turnover with Russia, nor did he mention a potential resumption of air links, much less did he say about Moscow’s gratitude for its independent policy. The Georgian Prime Minister, in fact, avoided answering the question, because it was simply inappropriate for him to say in Munich that the SMO benefited his country more than it did harm to Georgia; he only repeated many times that Tbilisi was in favor of the soonest possible cessation of hostilities. Still, he also noted that during and after the Five-Day War Georgia had never seen the kind of help the West is currently providing for Kiev.

This phrase left hanging in midair. Mr. Garibashvili was then asked about the health of Ukrainian citizen Saakashvili, and Prime Minister had to convince the Europeans that the artistic politician was all right and did not need to go abroad, but he did not refrain from reproaching the EU and the U.S. of their double standards.

What’s next?

For now, Georgia plans to bear up with a further protraction in its European integration, yet the dissatisfaction of the Georgian government about the unfair treatment by the West keeps mounting. After all, Georgia has been the most diligent and loyal participant of the Eastern Partnership program. One should not expect the Caucasian Republic to abandon its Euro-Atlantic course in the foreseeable future, but a further expansion of economic ties with Russia is predictable and rather inevitable.

Georgia’s focus shifting towards regional collaboration is equally predictable. In the new world, where global interaction is in decline, regional interaction is most important, since the neighboring states are always interested in constructive collaboration, even if their governments get involved in enmity at some turn of history. With the development of China’s Middle Corridor and the Turkish gas hub, which will include Azerbaijani and Turkmen gas in addition to the Russian gas, Georgia’s role as a transit state for cargo and energy supplies will be rising. This means that the impossibility of joining the EU will no longer matter for Tbilisi at some point, and a revision of Georgia’s foreign policy strategy will then be quite possible.

Russia, for its part, will welcome any sensible and robust steps taken by Georgia that clearly promote its national interests. Independence in foreign policy is what Moscow is calling for, saluting all nations prioritizing their interests.

From our partner RIAC

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Eastern Europe

Options for Ending the War in Ukraine

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image source: photo: Albert Lores

On the one hand, as in any war, leaders’ stubborn myths lead to more death and destruction as the war drags on. Coupled with the delusion of greatness in winning the war, they become insensitive to reason and a sense of humanity. Their only goal is to realize their fantasy world without sensible consideration of the actual reality and risks to human life and their countries. The belief that stirs passionate emotion of human bravado and aggressiveness creates a hype of mass followers. On the other hand, constructive propositions engendering a more sensible outcome result in a more tone-down emotional response with fewer mass advocates.

Let’s ponder the scenarios based on beliefs that either protract the war in Ukraine or resolve it.

Scenario One: The war as a showcase of personal accolades

The name of the game here is escalation. The new Western leaders come onto the stage to present their weapon donations to initiate larger donations. In turn, the charity earns them mass media hype accolades as donors of war and destruction. The more weapons they donate, the friendlier they are honored, and the deadlier the weapons they donate the more honorable they become. Will they also be all out singing hallelujah when the war finally turns uncontrollable and global? 

Are naïve Western leaders impulsively jumping onto a bandwagon of escalation to star on a global stage, assuming their international war accolades, may bring them more votes back home for the continuity in office as they face criticism amidst their respective national crises?  The belief that Russia and Putin must be defeated, by all means, and the opportunity has come through Zelensky, underlies the drive for robust and sustainable military empowerment of Ukraine.  By the way, is Zelensky’s call for military upgrades to defeat Russia in Ukraine also include a hidden agenda for turning Ukraine into a superpower?  Wild, powerful, and deadly escalation with no clear exit strategy is the game that Biden and NATO leaders bet on for peace. But don’t they see that more weapons equal more attacks? More attacks equal more death and destruction? Biden and NATO calculate that by escalating the war, they can utterly defeat Russia and establish their sole global military-political dominance. On the contrary, because of the escalation, now we see the solidifying of the paradigmatic Chinese-Russian alliance and the rise of a truly bipolar world. Other regional alliances are also germinating.

There are three possible outcomes of the escalation approach. One is very hot, courtesy of the extra-hot lunacy of leaders—it’s called global catastrophe!  Another is hot, which can easily turn very hot, it’s called a regional catastrophe! The other two are sweet and sour. The sour—is the rise of a dysfunctional and multipolar world frozen in a cold war.  The sweet though is—the emergence of a new harmonious multipolar world, with politically independent niches yet economically and culturally interconnected. Wake up, leaders! Whatever outcome your reason and sense of humanity passionately direct you—an exit strategy is needed. The sitz em liben will push you out if you don’t have one. And the escalators will lose and be denunciated!

Is US-NATO apprehensive that in the absence of conflict and war in Europe, they will  become insignificant and also lose their multibillion-dollar military industry? Is Zelensky anxious that when the war is done, his and Ukraine’s celebrity status in the global state will also dissipate?  Didn’t Russia in 2018, trimmed down its military budget signaling a focus other than war?  By the way, with their kindred soul, are not Europeans better off resolving their conflicts with decency and diplomacy instead of acting as pawns of a foreign superpower? Or if needed, be mediated by a third party whom they respect and have mutual interests?

But what are the goals of the escalation? The utter destruction of Ukraine, then the absolute defeat of Russia, to pave the way for the sole dominance of US-NATO in Europe, then the world?  For rational considerations, the US cannot govern the whole world. Its foreign policies and practices are partisan, lobbyist-influenced, and always changing depending on who is in power. It cannot even cope with its crucial national issues, more so coping with the whole gamut of global issues confronting the well-being and future of humanity. The conflict in Ukraine came to this tragic point because either it was irresponsibly allowed, or strategically encouraged, to escalate. Now that it has escalated to war only lunacy says escalation can bring peace. The key to peace is not escalation but de-escalation!

Scenario Two: The conscientization of war

The strategy here is to de-escalate the war through strategic arm support suspension, toning down the rhetoric of war, and engaging in intermediary diplomacy with the intention of a ceasefire. Realizing that more weapons do not resolve the conflict and bring peace, other world leaders with awakened reason and a sense of humanity, step onto the global podium to facilitate transforming the scenario of war into a scenario of sensible diplomacy.  The goal is for both parties to de-escalate!

The suspension of weapons support can tone down Zelensky’s rhetoric of war and calm down Putin’s combat spirit. Besides, to attack further an unempowered Ukraine can backlash on Putin.  And even Russians cannot celebrate a victory in a power-imbalanced war for that will be humiliating conquest.  Imagine when new leaders of peace pop up and boldly promote the mutual reduction of weapons used in war, decreasing attacks, downsizing front lines, establishing a safe zone, allowing peace monitoring, then strategically moving toward a ceasefire. Ceasefire can offer both breathing spaces for all stakeholders to think rationally and sensibly.  The war has taken a heavy toll on both parties.  Earlier Putin already expressed his willingness to negotiate but Zelensky does not. It appears that Zelensky would like the world to believe that anyone wanting peace resolution is an enemy of Ukraine. Is the world hypnotized by him? The only hindrance to de-escalation and the peace process is ideological authoritarianism—that is, there is only one valid belief on the war in Ukraine.  And that belief is based only on Zelensky’s story. Those who have a different view are hated and excommunicated.  The world that hates dictatorship has fallen prey to it.

The refusal to de-escalate and engage in diplomacy made me wonder about some issues

related to Scenario One.  Is Zelensky anxious that when the war ceased his and Ukraine’s celebrity status will also dissipate?  Are Biden, Sunak, Scholz, and others oblivious to the risks of further death and destruction in the escalation of the war? Does von der Leyen of EC foresee Ukrainian economic prosperity through ammo supply? Or are the present leaders simply engrossed in self-serving interests other than the life and future of the Ukrainians? 

Is Biden fascinated by imagined victory over Russia during his term? So he portrays himself like the senior Indiana Jones, daring and able-bodied to increase his popularity rating and sweeten his chance for re-election?  Does he not realize that he and the US are not major players in resolving the conflict but have become mere avid followers of Zelensky’s passion for war? And are subjects of Zelensky’s unpleasant criticism if they disagree with him?  If the world will explode Biden will go down in his history as the American president who allowed, encouraged, if not lured, to its horrible tragedies. Are Sunak, Scholz, and others also using the arms support reality shows to boost their public acceptance amidst their respective national predicaments? Only sensible leaders are open to the cessation of war unless driven by the paradox of glory out of the ruins. If Jimmy Carter is the president during this Russian-Ukraine conflict, I wonder how would he manage it. On the other, the crises in Ukraine offer the US and the West a grand moral opportunity to rebrand themselves as the broker of peace and prosperity in Europe and the world. A very positive and constructive rebranding of the US in our contemporary history that can be genuinely credited to Biden. The urgent issue is not about marketing the war, it’s about resolving it.

Isn’t de-escalation more helpful than escalation?  US Republican congressman Paul Gosar and senator JD Vance think so. So were the thirty Democrat Representatives urging Biden last year for a diplomatic solution. The Chinese and the Hungarians have also been initiating peaceful and diplomatic solutions. De-escalation can lead to a ceasefire, and a ceasefire can allow breathing space for both sides to think rationally and sensibly and envision, instead of short-term glory, a long-term mutual progress. Enough of Zelensky delusion of greatness and Biden’s aging reason and sensibility. What the world needs now is a rational, sensible, and diplomatic solution to the conflict before it conflagrates further. The focus is not on who wins the war, as in childhood rivalries. It’s about serious matters of saving lives and countries, preventing regional and even global catastrophe, while also ensuring that there is still a brighter future left for the Ukrainians. The world has so much more life to offer for those who aspire to peace.

Scenario Three: Getting over it and focusing on the economic future

The objective here is to immediately end the war through a holistic diplomatic strategy and start economic recovery through regional and global partnerships.

At the outset, there were two pre-war scenarios for Ukraine. One, Ukraine being at the border of Russia is a strategic military locus for US-NATO. This made Ukraine a possible site of an Armageddon. The other, Ukraine has a huge agricultural land, is one the largest agricultural producers in the world, and is Europe’s breadbasket. This made Ukraine a potential economic power.  Now at war, there are two choices of rhetoric Ukrainians can declare. One, “Let’s bomb and wipe them all out.” With a clenched fist and raised arms, Ukrainian warriors would declare this. But it’s easier said than done, it’s very risky, and a devastating fantasy. The other, “Let’s get over with war, and like Japan in WWII, pick up our broken pieces, rebuild our country, and show the world that Ukraine can be an economic powerhouse.” With a hand on their heart and eyes of hope looking up above, enterprising Ukrainian nation-builders (including farmers) would proclaim this. And it’s here where Ukrainians can see the outpouring of true friendship and real constructive partnership to give them hope for a better future.

Even before the war, Ukraine was tagged as the poorest country in Europe due to high corruption. And it is getting more bankrupt now. But aside from its leading agricultural status, it has rich mineral deposits and growing industries from chemical, aerospace, and shipbuilding.  In 2012 Ukraine’s largest trading partner was Russia, then EU in 2015. However, Ukraine’s biggest import was also natural gas from Russia.

Shifting a to a similar, although grander past during the height of the Cold War, Khrushchev did visit the US and had a diplomatic meeting with Eisenhower.  Brezhnev did have an amicable negotiation with both Nixon and Carter.  Nixon and Brezhnev even constructively dealt with common interests and concerns like science and technology, education, culture, public health, and environment and signed a joint diplomatic Declaration of Basic Principles of Mutual Relations. They did it as leader-to-leader and as mature, sensible, and pragmatic persons.  Now, can’t kin on their right mind and sense of humanity, do it?  If awkward, probably a liaison team may do—a small team of figures representing countries and institutions that both parties respect, don’t want to antagonize, and are regarded as necessary partners for political stability and economic progress.  The war in Ukraine needs to be mediated by a third party whose power both parties cannot ignore because it could threaten the integrity of their leadership personae.  

A Personal Story

Years before migrating to Canada, while teaching social science in a state university, I was also appointed by the Board of Regents as Executive Assistant for External Affairs. For quite some time, the land dispute between the federal university and the provincial government protracted.  Both parties were adamant about their respective beliefs of land ownership despite legal and historical ambiguities. 

With my previous experience as clergy, I liaised between the two. Then I discovered that if the dispute is unsettled, the province will lose its substantial foreign aid to build the much-needed provincial sports gymnasium; and the university will lose its overseas donation for its research center aside from the risk of losing its cultural center. The province insisted that it owned the location of the university cultural center and the only available lot inside the campus for the research center, but the university disagreed.  The university claimed ownership of the vacant swampy land adjacent to the campus identified as the site of the gymnasium, but the province objected.

When both parties realized their mutual needs, the rhetoric of animosity subsided, and discussions became sensible. Both parties agreed to stop the litigation, listened to each other, clarified ambiguities, and pragmatically focused on mutually meeting their essential needs. A fresh and optimistic solicitor general came to draft the terms and conditions. In the end, the province had the vacant swampy land and the university had the two lots. It was a grand exhilarating day witnessing the signing of the agreement. 

Today stands the provincial gym, the site of many provincial, regional, and national sports events. And the research centers that pursue academic progress and development, and the cultural center, where many events (university, city and region) were held, became uncontestably owned by the university.  Both ended up benefiting from the amicable and compromised agreement and even helping each other deal with common issues like preserving the university forest reserves to other mutually beneficial endeavors.


Immediate arm-race reduction, prompt de-escalation, and calculated end of hostilities, coupled with a mutual, amicable, and compromise agreement, plus binding mutual and multilateral commitments for infrastructural, economic, social, and cultural reconstruction (similar Japan-US cooperations after WWII)—to serve the greater purpose for the common good of their people and the region—is the noblest and most memorable thing to do for the war to end!

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