Between Scylla and CharybdisPosted: 2015/01/25
Note: this post has been first written on Georgian in November-December, 2014. As the situation in Ukraine has regressed, I have decided to provide English version to possible interested audience.
On the first anniversary of the Maidan tensions abound. When facing a vote on his appointment as Deputy of Secretary of State, the U.S. President’s then Deputy National Security Advisor, Tony Blinken, consciously “gave away” (declared) President Obama’s intention to supply Ukraine with military armaments, and not only defensive ones. If the U.S. actually begins to supply armaments to Ukraine, not just once or twice in experimental batches, the control of the Donbas region by Russia may not be accomplished quickly, despite Putin’s original plan to complete this by the end of the winter of 2015. But it is also clear that Putin will not retreat so easily; we cannot rule out the possibility that he will send many more military units to Eastern Ukraine.
Another relevant factor is the tension between President Obama and the Republican Congress, which is largely due to the President’s issuance of an executive action on migration. Since Congress has long been demanding that the U.S. help Ukraine by supplying weapons, by sharing this information with them Obama may be trying to placate his internal political opposition. One thing is very clear: this winter will be a worrying and dangerous one for Ukraine for a variety of reasons. There is no firmly pro-Western coalition, the U.S. has not given its full support, economic assistance from the EU may not be forthcoming, the prices of energy resources are uncertain, and Russia may bring in a huge supply of weapons and militants, or even openly use Russian regular armed forces on Ukrainian soil.
This situation seriously increases opportunities and threats for Georgia, although threats may be more numerous.
An impartial and critical analysis of a future foreign policy strategy and tactics for Georgia is necessary. I am not under the illusion that my opinions are based on professional experience; they are the opinions of a citizen who is interested in the destiny of the country. Comments on these opinions are welcome. I am less interested in the views of politicians and diplomats, and would prefer to hear the thoughts of thinkers – people who are independent and objective. For very clear reasons, those who work in politics will not openly share the state’s direction and plans in this regard.
Georgia never has been and never will be, at least for another fifteen to thirty years, located in a political neighborhood where decision making of national importance will be primarily determined by internal political forces and currents. For this reason, while factors such as internal stability and the foundations for economic growth are important for Georgia’s existence, it is also very important to minimize or eliminate the threats which prevent the country’s peaceful development or even its existence. These threats may emerge from various stakeholders who are active in the region, or as a result of a clash of their interests in Georgia. At present, there are three main stakeholders:
The next sections consist of analyses of stakeholders’ strategic interests and their rapprochement with Georgia. It also looks at relations in a historical context and examines the future prospects of each stakeholder.
Part I – Russia
1.1 Political Interests. Georgia is a temporarily lost territory for Russia’s authorities, of utmost importance due to its geostrategic location. If Georgia returns to Russia’s sphere of influence, the logistics of reaching Armenia, its prime ally in the South Caucasus, will be simplified for Russia. That would also significantly limit alternative energy routes from Central Asia and Azerbaijan to Europe, thus strengthening Russia’s own energy security. Other countries in the region would similarly be affected in a way that would benefit Russia; for example Turkey’s economic and political strengthening would be significantly neutralized, and more pressure would be put on Azerbaijan. Russia’s faltering status as a super power would be reversed. The possibility of spreading American and EU influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, both economically and politically, would be significantly limited. Russia would be able to strengthen its transport ties with Iran and eradicate Georgia’s current position as an independent main transport corridor and part of the Silk Road. This would also eliminate the danger that the successful creation of a democratic state in Georgia would have caused for Russia, in particular the ideological problem for the closed society model of Russian autocracy.
1.2 Existing Threats. Russia supposedly has a secret-service network of some variety in Georgia, as well as supporters with political parties who could strengthen their weak influence in the event of Russian aggression. I am not suggesting that they would actively help Russia in the event of aggression, but Russia may hope to have satellite powers in Georgia after renewed hostilities. The main point to remember is that Russia has military bases on Georgian territory, in Akhalgori, Tskhinvali, and Abkhazia, as well as in neighboring Armenia. The Russian army could easily block road and rail travel, as well as the transportation of energy, between Eastern and Western Georgia. It also has the power to attack Tbilisi, and to block the ports of Poti and Batumi. To do so, Russia would require many fewer additional resources than it did in 2008 and, more importantly, it would not hesitate to make this decision. While Europe is hesitating about Georgia’s EU and NATO integration, frustration in Georgian society is growing. Even rapprochement with the aggressor may be admissible in the near future. This would have been unimaginable not long ago. This is due to the fact that the idea of integration with the West seems more and more like a fairy tale, the fiction of which undermines it. While Georgia’s economic development and integration into Western institutions is limping along, Russia will have greater opportunity to drag Georgia back into its sphere of influence. Another matter of great significance is that between the aforementioned three empires only Russia is displaying the readiness to use force in the post-Soviet space and has demonstrated this many times in many places over the past twenty-five years. Russian authorities are not trying to protect the rules of the political game; they have proved that they feel much less responsibility to follow approved principles, e.g. post-Yalta borders, than the leaders of the Soviet Union did. Therefore Putin cynically challenges the world: “Even with fewer resources than the Soviet Union, I am more dangerous because I will start the war whereas you will avoid using military forces!”
And Russia is not merely bluffing, as it proved in 2008…
1.3. Negative Historical Realities: Russia is an autocratic country governed in an undemocratic manner. Since the 16th Century, monarchic, autocratic and then partocratic/oligopolistic governance has been traditional. Nonetheless, Russia’s current political formation has external elements of liberal-democratic governance. But these are only elements of a façade. The prospects for real development of a liberal democracy are insignificant; in light of Russia’s historical experience and its geographic-infrastructural and demographic reality, Russia will never allow development of a truly democratic government, at the very least for the next thirty years. In Russia’s current political establishment there is no one who fully understands the imperative of democratic development. Those who do understand it, such as Kasparov and Kasianov, have no chance of electoral victory or other ways of coming into power. Democratic leaders such as Navalni and Khodorkovski, who do have a theoretical chance, will throw away their democratic outlook when they draw closer to authority or they would start to think about the real implementation of foreign policy, as was the case when Solzhenitsyn returned and would have been had Gaidar returned to power. The conclusion is that Russia’s approach towards Georgia has never been and never will be more than the approach of a suzerain to his vassal. Russia also categorically opposes Georgia’s economic development, both historically, now, and in the future. Heating up ethnic tensions and demographic changes in Georgia has also always been in the interest of Russia, so it will try this again in the future.
1.4. Positive Historic Moments. Certain positive moments do exist and should not be ignored as they unfortunately commonly are by Georgia’s pro-Europeans.
The Russian Empire genuinely did act as the guarantor of Georgian unity when Georgia joined Russia, in 1783, and at certain points in the 19th and 20th centuries. Russia neutralized the influence of the Iran and Turkey, and also importantly repelled destructive actions by rival regions within Georgia. It is thanks to Russia that Adjara, Abhkazia, Samtskhe, and Poti remained part of Georgia. It is rash to forget that Georgia’s official modern borders, recognized by the UN, were brought into existence by the Russian Empire. Of course, Russian tsars and Bolshevik leaders were not at all concerned about the borders of a future independent Georgian state, but the result was the same regardless. As part of the Russian Empire, Georgia had a limited but still guaranteed possibility to develop its own culture, language, education and even science. Christianity was defended. It is instructive to consider the conditions of the approximately two million Georgians who lived in the Ottoman Empire or the approximately one million Georgians who lived in Iran. We should not forget the level of their cultural, linguistic, and religious independence and the lamentable conditions of the monuments of Georgian culture. We have to recognize that the Russian Empire was far more loyal towards Georgia and Georgians. Negative memories of 1921-24 or 1989-2008 would be incomplete if we did not acknowledge what the Ottoman Empire or Turkey might have done, or even what today’s Turkish government would do, if the Georgian population living on its territory were to demand independence or autonomy. Finally, when I mentioned the Ottoman Empire, we should note the possibility of a continuation- a Turkish Empire. Perhaps it is early to discuss this, but it is possible, and those who have closely followed the movements of the historical development of Turkey would agree that they may be repeated. Perhaps then the Russian Empire would be needed once again to control growing Turkish expansionism as it did in the past.
1.5. Negative Potential Prospects. The negative prospects also should not be neglected; this is a common mistake of Georgian pro-Russian politicians.
In my opinion, those who review our shared history with Russia are too negative, while those who consider our shared future are too optimistic.
The Russian political establishment, no matter whether we are referring to Dugin, Volodin, Surkov, or Zhyrinovski, will not provide everything that has been promised by pro-Russian politicians in Georgia: reintegration of Abhkazia or the Tskhinvali region, low prices on petrol and gas, guarantee of stability of Georgian agriculture, or the reincarnation of Georgian culture, education and science.
Current and future Russian leaders will never forget that the main mechanism to block Georgia’s full integration into the West were the time-bombs intentionally included in Georgia’s political establishment by the Russian tsars and Bolsheviks. Had Abkhazian and South Ossetian autonomy not been declared, or artificial hostility between Georgians and Abkhazians not been created, Georgia probably would have become a member of NATO. I consider the illusions that Russia will return Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia, even if Georgia rejects a pro-European and pro-Atlantic direction and agrees to join the Eurasian Economic Union, to be very unrealistic. The best eventuality would be confederation treaties between Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Contained within these hypothetical treaties might be conditions that would forbid Georgia from leaving the Eurasian Union so long as Abkhazia and South Ossetia were part of Georgia. A condition providing for a separate referendum in those regions would potentially be included. Also, Russia will remember its liberal approach to Georgia over its two hundred year rule and how this contributed to the many Georgian attempts to escape Russian influence. As a result, the modern Russian empire might be far more controlling than its predecessor in the following ways:
- Presumably, there will be financial support only for Russian language secondary and higher education in Georgia. In Georgia, including in the regions of Abkhazia and Ossetia, Russia will seek to restrict the national language, education, and culture and promote the Russification of the population even more quickly than it did in the 19th and 20th This policy will be pursued using economic means, not by force. It is doubtful that Georgian culture, including theatre and cinema, would receive the same level of support that it did in Soviet times.
- The financing of cultural and scientific institutions is likely to force the development of links to institutions in Russia and limit opportunities to establish independent ties with scientific and cultural centers in the West.
- All of Georgia’s natural resources and infrastructure will eventually become the property of Russian state companies. Any alternative energy projects will close with the help of economic or other forceful levers.
- Presumably, Russia will use its own financial resources to encourage the migration of talented intellectuals from Georgia to Russia. At the same time, Russia will pursue a state migration policy encouraging the settlement of Russians (and probably Armenians) into the agricultural and tourist zones of Georgia.
- Russia will use its secret service network, blackmail, and financial tools to marginalize and discredit any pro-Western forces, and root out instances of the emergence of Western financing for any public NGO, schools, universities, or cultural organizations.
- Today the overall potential of Georgian business is nowhere near the potential of Russian business; it is clear that dreams of a Georgian re-conquest of the Russian capital and markets cannot be realized. It is in fact quite possible that instead we would have a “Russian” Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi next to the already “Turkish-Arabic” Agmashenebeli Street.
If Georgia returns to Russia’s sphere of influence, most visibly by entering the Eurasian Union, that could bring stability for certain time, but would not ensure the formation of successful Georgian state within a Russian protectorate. It is possible that stability would be short term and the impression of a successful state would be an illusion. If pro-Western Georgia was perceived as a traitor by Russia, then a pro-Russian Georgia could be now perceived as a traitor by the U.S., the EU, and NATO on the one hand, and by Turkey on the other. This could start the process of a Euromaidan in Tbilisi, which could lead to the complete disintegration of the country, maybe even into three parts, with Adjara falling to Turkey, the rest of Western Georgia to Russia, and Eastern Georgia remaining pro-Western. A similar situation was a recurring scenario for Georgia in the past.
Part II – U.S./NATO/EU
While joining the EU is a historic prospect for Georgia, the political and military support of the United States, Georgia’s current main strategic ally, is of utmost importance for security. The main institution for ensuring Georgia’s security is still NATO. At the same time, the Georgian state is striving to become a democratic market economy. This would be best realized, as can be seen in Eastern Europe, through joining the EU. This is perceived by Georgian politicians as a second mechanism of defense against Russia’s expansionist aspirations. For this reason, I am examining these three closely related structures as a single force, although there are many differences. For example, they differ in their perception of and desire for swift Georgian integration into their own structures. These differences will play a particularly serious role in the practical realization of Georgia’s future trajectory. Yet this article is not the place for a detailed discussion of the internal differences between members of this triumvirate. Rather they will be considered as a force with one direction.
2.1. Political Interests. Georgia is very important for the U.S. and the EU as it is located at the center of vital energy and transport corridors and in close proximity to both ongoing and potential conflicts, in states such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. This further increases Georgia’s logistical importance. If tensions between the U.S. and the EU and Russia increase, interest towards Georgia will simultaneously strengthen since Georgian territory offers a rare alternative to Russian pipelines for transporting the rich resources of Azerbaijan and Central Asia to Europe, assuming that Iran remains isolated. This will be of critical importance to Europe in 10 to 30 years. Moreover, Georgia remains one of the most successful examples of building a Western-style society and institutions in the post-Soviet space, excluding the Baltic states with their different historical destinies. Georgia could be seen as a rare success story as regards the replication of the vitality of western democracy. Either its success or its failure will hold serious implications for U.S. and EU policy and politicians.
Finally, Georgia has significant cultural, historical, and recreational tourism potential, and a rich experience of multi-cultural and multi-religious tolerance. It also has good relationships with all countries of the South Caucasus, which are engaged in significant conflicts with each other. This is important for the Euro-Atlantic community, albeit to a lesser degree.
At the same time, it is necessary to accept that neither the U.S. nor the EU will enter a serious conflict with Russia, either military or political in nature, just for the sake of Georgia. This was proved in 2008 when, despite important political support, relations with Russia were fully renewed within a mere two months of the war. This occurred without the fulfillment of a signed treaty by Russia.
2.2 Negative Aspects of the Relationship. It is likely that the U.S. also has its own influential agents in Georgia; it does not try to hide its preferences and sympathies for certain Georgian political parties. Of course, this is not necessarily a danger since today the U.S. is one of Georgia’s main strategic partners. But the experience of the previous government shows what can happen when a strategic relationship with a country is replaced by extreme rapprochement with the government and ruling party. When the former government’s popular approval ratings were already in sharp decline, U.S. Ambassador Tefft as well as certain members of the U.S. political elite, remained overly loyal to Saakashvili and the UNM, despite their slide from democracy to autocracy. The majority of the Georgian public saw this support as interference by an external force in the internal political life of Georgia. While it was flexible and not as aggressive as Russian interference, it was interference nonetheless. The warm political relations between American and European political elites and Saakashvili played a near pivotal role in the major falsifications of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008; they were also potentially somewhat to blame for the beginning of military actions in 2008. The repetition of such problems in the future is not impossible, and their prevention depends on the democratic and civic maturity of Georgian society.
Today a more serious problem is the dissonance between U.S./NATO/EU leaders’ promises of goodwill towards Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and the real state of affairs. Their good will has heightened the expectations of Georgian politicians; recognizing their unrealistic illusions will be a bitter pill to swallow.
And finally, in a situation of global realpolitik major stakeholders dealing with problems of higher priority (Iran’s nuclear program, the suppression of Islamic State, the fate of the Syrian regime, or approaches to the problems of North Korea or Iraq) could reach quid pro quo agreements at the expense of their weaker political allies. Unfortunately, when speaking frankly most Georgian political commentators and strategists admit that Georgia is still mainly an instrument used to realize global and regional policies, not a subject of actual interest in realpolitik.
This is also an important issue for the long-term task of Georgia’s integration in the NATO structures that would largely be responsible for providing it with military assistance. Considering the current reality, logistical expediency, and political ambitions, it is most likely that the axis of NATO-Georgia cooperation would be represented by Turkish-Georgian military cooperation. Taking into account both historical and contemporary realities which will be reviewed in detail in the next section, it is undeniable that the possible replacement of past Russian military presence by a future Turkish military presence would not be the preferred choice for a significant part of Georgian society.
The most delicate and important hardship relates to Georgia’s lost territories. EU and NATO skepticism regarding Georgian accession to their organizations is related to the following three problems: Russia’s negative attitude; the financial burden of integration due to the weakness of Georgia’s economy; and how NATO/EU will accept Georgia when part of its territory is de-facto occupied by Russia. The policy of non-recognition of separatist de-facto states is one issue, but it certainly does not mean western allies are ready to force the reunification of Georgia, if we were to discuss western allies’ responsibility to support Georgia’s dream of regaining its lost territories. At some point, Georgian society will realize what Western partners have not yet vocalized – that if we really want to join NATO and the EU, we cannot expect NATO or the EU to return the currently occupied territories. Such “hopes” from the Georgian side might lead to a curt rejection of Georgia’s accession chances. We should also consider a scenario in which the Georgian people and authorities decide that joining the EU and NATO is just a dream and decide on a course change, such as the politics of neutrality. This could cause problems in Georgia’s relations with the West. But these problems would not be as acute and urgent as problems with Russia. Georgia may not be really willing to initiate this kind of “separation” from the West. However, frankly speaking, endlessly waiting at the permanently “open door” may become unbearable at some point in the future.
Finally, Western integration, if it is ultimately achieved, would not be unproblematic. Georgia’s predominantly Orthodox society may have difficulties with the receipt of Western norms. The previous government skillfully used these potential difficulties to mask its undemocratic, inhumane character with false concern for minorities and a false pro-Western image. This is still a sensitive minefield in Georgian-Western relations; it may also be the main source of growing nostalgia for a pro-Russian stance. But resolving these problems and finding consensus may not be as difficult as solving the other aforementioned problems, because other Orthodox countries are long-term members of NATO and the EU. Furthermore, there has been some progress towards acceptance of pro-Western geopolitical course by the Patriarch of the Georgian Church and also in the approaches taken by the EU and U.S. ambassadors to demonstrate respect for Georgian traditional values. Yet we must acknowledge that Russia has not yet used its trump card; it could gain much by emphasizing the doctrine of orthodoxy and political conservatism. Russia is saving this weapon for future combat.
2.3 Negative Historical Experience: Insignificant in Comparison with Russia and Turkey.
Georgia has many fewer historical grievances towards the West, as it has not experienced occupation, annexation, or ethnic cleansing by Western states. But there was cold indifference and refusal of support in the early period of Georgia’s independence, in both the period of 1918-1921, and beginning again in 1990. The lessons of world realpolitik show that powerful states are motivated first of all by the interests of equally powerful opponents, in this case Russia.
There are serious concerns that during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 the cause of Georgian leaders’ adventurism may have been the U.S. Republican administration’s secret encouragement of Saakashvili. Yet some indirect evidence also suggests that Russia skillfully set a trap for Saakashvili, making him confident that in the event of a Georgian response to shooting from the Tskhinvali side, Russian peacekeepers would dig in and refrain from engaging in the conflict. Saakashvili may also have been under the illusion that even if Russia interfered, the efficacious help of the U.S. and other western countries would rapidly neutralize Russian aggression. The causes of such suspicions are numerous: Saakashvili’s government permanently coordinated its activities with political circles in the U.S. through particular individuals. In addition to Ambassador Tefft and Mathew Bryza, these persons were Counselor Daniel Kunin, Raphael Glucksmann, and Senator McCain’s advisor, Randy Sheunemann. It is likely that these individuals possessed information about the movement of Georgian military units and heavy armaments towards the area of tension on August 6-7, 2008. Some maintain that the ratings of the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, benefitted from the military conflict between Russia and Georgia, giving U.S. voters the impression that in the face of severe deterioration in Russian-U.S. relationship, tough McCain would be a better choice than the more liberal Obama. In fact, in the weeks that followed August 8th, McCain did pull ahead of Obama for a while. It is also interesting that the American side did not comment on President Sarkozy’s assertion that on August 8th, President Bush advised him not to go to Georgia because of the 40km proximity of Russians from Tbilisi. He also advised Sarkozy to solely condemn Russia’s actions. Finally, we should recall that following the conclusion of the war, Vice-President Dick Cheney expressed the opinion that it would be beneficial to give Georgians “Stingers”, so that they could fight against Russians as long and steadfastly as the Afghans once did. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/18/washington/18diplo.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0 ). Yet, at the same time, it has been confirmed that Matthew Bryza and Condoleezza Rice in particular warned Saakashvili that military conflict with Russia was inadmissible. Rice repeatedly warned Saakashvili that in the event of military confrontation, he should not hope for US military support.
While Saakashvili was indeed very closely tied to the U.S., he was still capable of embarking on this suicidal adventure without their encouragement. On numerous occasions Saakashvili proved that he did not need special encouragement for adventurism. For example, in August 2004, the “adventure” of taking the hill of Triakhana, which is of strategic importance as it faces Tskhinvali, was planned and realized by Saakashvili and Defense Minister Okruashvili. The nearly catastrophic action of Saakashvili, prevented by the timely and fortuitous interference of Prime Minister Zurab Jvania, caused the U.S. to be disappointed with Saakashvili for the first time. Unfortunately, Zurab Jvania died six months later in unknown circumstances, leaving no one behind to neutralize Saakashvili’s adventures. It is worth mentioning that quite a large part of Georgian political observers and society have a different interpretation of the role of Mikheil Saakashvili in the period before the 2008 war and during the war, as regards the loss of territories. Many think that the real reasons for this operation may have been very well masked from the beginning. The significant connections between Saakashvili’s uncle, Temur Alasania, and the Russian political and security establishment, are considered to be the basis for this. Saakashvili had a team of U.S. advisers who helped coordinate his actions with the U.S. government. For Russian issues he had his uncle, who has ties with Russian “siloviki”. Apparently the complete dissociation between these two teams may have been the reason why the US was possibly ignorant of the information (or misinformation) Saakashvili had received about Russians plans. This may be why a Russian trap was not foreseen and prevented by the same strong advisers to Saakashvili, who represented Western allies.
In a growing part of Georgian society there is disappointment and even irritation about the constant variations in the EU’s and NATO’s positions on Georgia’s accession to NATO and on increasing integration with the EU. These variations range from encouraging Georgia without being specific about timing, to hesitation or uncertainty about whether or when accession would be feasible. Many Georgians are also unhappy with the harsh reality that Georgia’s accession to NATO and rapprochement, or even association, with the EU is categorically inadmissible. It should be noted that the current “acceptance” by Russia of the EU-Georgia association is a benefit of the crisis in Ukraine, since at present Russia has no time for Georgia. American diplomats and politicians are also taking a prudent approach to the process of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration due to Russia. However, it is clear that even more cautious position of certain European states for whom the Russian position is important, foremost among them Germany, represents a serious delaying factor or even a barrier to the process of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The fact that these countries’ leaders (other than Hungary’s) do not want to acknowledge the existence of such a close connection between their politics and those of Russia, increases the chances of the prolongation of illusion on the one hand and, on the other hand, if the illusion is exposed, the chances of disappointment and irritation in Georgian society.
2.4 Positive Historical Moments.
Despite the difficulties discussed above, the U.S., NATO and the EU remain Georgia’s most reliable partners and strategic allies.
Since 1992, when diplomatic relations between U.S. and Georgia were established, U.S. authorities served as the main consultant and donor for democratic reforms, and reforms of state structures, the army, legislation, healthcare, and education in Georgia. Overall, the U.S. government has spent approximately 10 billion dollars on assistance for Georgia, an unprecedented amount in the post-Soviet space. The issue of how correctly and effectively this assistance was planned and used is another question, but the mistakes related to aid are more due to the Georgian side than the American one.
Both the U.S. and NATO are very grateful for Georgian support of their military units’ engagement in peacekeeping and antiterrorist operations. It is important to mention that there is not unanimous and unconditional support by Georgian society for their country’s support for NATO and the subsequent Georgian deaths and injuries. Yet significant U.S. support is responsible for the fact that Russian troops are not in Tbilisi.
It is also worth noting that without the clear stance of the U.S. government, and the U.S. Ambassador, Richard Norland, in particular, Mikheil Saakashvili might have falsified or tried to falsify the elections in 2012 too, even though this could have inspired rivalries and bloodshed in the country. In 2012, U.S. authorities supported the Georgian people, not the United National Movement and Mikheil Saakashvili, despite the latter’s personal closeness to the U.S. political elite. At the same time, we should emphasize that had the Georgian population and political opposition shown the same unity and determination of 2012 in 2008, maybe the West would not have decided to accept the “coronation” of Mikheil Saakashvili in clearly falsified elections (see the final report – the details, especially in counting, not only opening summary written 4 months earlier! – on the 2008 Presidential Elections by the OSCE/ODIHR).
2.5. Negative Potential Perspectives.
Unified western sanctions after Crimea’s Anschluss by Russia have had a significant damaging effect on the Russian ruble, the stock market, and on the confidence of Putin’s inner circle and domestic businesses. Economic stability in Russia is threatened but has not reached the level of economic destruction that would be required to convince Putin to step back from the crisis in Ukraine. There is no firm guarantee that sanctions will be strengthened or will even continue past the spring of 2015. Certain EU member states have made signs that they will not support the continuation of sanctions. Putin’s ratings are even higher than before sanctions were introduced, even though there is growing concern and fear in Russian society. It is very unlikely that sanctions could promote large protests in Russia. In this context, it would be logical for Putin to try to use the winter to gain full political and military control of Eastern Ukraine. Kharkov and Odessa could meet a similar fate. It is also possible that he will recognize the state of “Malorossiya” or try to undermine Ukraine’s economic and political stability in the longer-term by creating separatist enclaves (which were mastered and piloted in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova).
Despite verbal expressions of concern and support, if Ukraine is left to face Russia’s growing aggression on its own, aggression which has resulted in 5000 deaths and the increasing devastation of Ukraine’s economic potential, I am afraid it would be a catastrophe not only for Ukraine, but for the world as well. It could trigger an active emergence of the perilous belief in the primacy of power in various parts of the world, such as China, Iran, and Turkey.
If this occurs, the Georgian government may be forced to reconsider its strategic course; no one can remain steadfast and loyal at times of extreme changes and challenges. However, changing the direction of foreign policy is less difficult than finding the right policy in the first place.
Part III – Turkey
3.1 Political Interests.
Turkey, like Russia, considers Georgia to be a temporarily lost territory. This territory mostly comprises of all of Western Georgia, but especially Adjara, Samtskhe, and Abkhazia, which were under Turkish control during the centuries preceding the intercession of the Russian army. The main reasons for the increase in Georgia’s geostrategic importance for Turkey in the past decade are Georgia’s first cold and then real war with Russia, and Turkey’s increased economic power and political ambitions. It now openly follows an agenda of reviving a new Ottoman Empire or, at the very least a revival of the cultural and economic space has become an exceptionally important strategy for its current leaders – Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. Turkey is interested in keeping Georgia under its economic and political influence in order to restore common space with Azerbaijan and the peoples of the North Caucasus who speak Turkic languages, thus shaking Russia’s so far unchallenged domination of the North Caucasus. Turkey’s interests are extensive; it intends to create energy corridors with China through the Turkic countries of Central Asia. Tbilisi’s importance as the central hub of the Silk Road is very significant. The first place of tactical victory in Turkey’s ambitious plans is already evident: Adjara, where Turkey, thanks to Saakashvili’s invitation, has created a relatively solid economic, religious, and political foundation for its bridge and a test bed for its far reaching plans for cultural and political reunion with Turkic peoples and countries.
The desire to have dominion over Georgia may increase in the near future due to the simultaneous weakness of Iran and, more recently, Russia. In this situation, while Russia is entering what will likely be a deep and long-lasting crisis due to Ukraine, the Turkish state sees a window of opportunity which may not open to the same degree in the near future.
3.2 Existing threats and problems which few have noticed until now
There are claims that Turkey, in addition to Russia, possesses not only a secret service network in Georgia, but more importantly it also has dominant influence across the entire region of Adjara. This influence has increased so significantly due to historic realities and Saakashvili’s great support during the last ten years. Saakashvili’s mother, a Turkologist by training, probably had an influence on her son’s belief that Turkey would be a reliable political force while confronting Russia. There is no openly pro-Turkish party in Georgia but Saakashvili, in the latter part of his political career, when he felt that American support was waning, openly turned towards Turkey and its current president – Erdoğan. It is possible that Saakashvili, in order to receive support from Turkey, agreed to certain special connections and concessions. Interestingly, Turkey was seen as an outpost of the West by Georgian political circles, despite its growing distance from the values and culture of the West. In the past five to ten years it has become clear that Turkish authorities are becoming increasingly autocratic and undemocratic. The trend of Islamisation of state structures and the cultural and educational spheres is growing. The war of 2008 and especially the Syria conflict have shown that Turkey, a NATO member, is striving to demonstrate its independence, to show that it will never simply bow to the alliance’s will, and to prove that it has the unlimited right to design its foreign and military course without coordination with other allies. The level of the Islamisation of the state machine and institutions is currently not very high, but even in these conditions, Turkey, as a relatively strong country in economic and military-political terms, may depart from the principles of the West in the future. This may herald a serious problem, first of all for the NATO alliance.
Another conundrum is that Turkey verbally supports Georgia’s territorial integrity, but at the same time ignores the phenomenon of flourishing Turkish businesses in separatist Abkhazia. No one can say for certain, but many economic experts agree that despite Russian political and military dominance in Abkhazia, it is not Russian businesses but Turkish businesses which really keep the Abkhazian economy and trade afloat.
(See Nick Clayton’s article: http://ge.boell.org/en/2014/01/16/what-turkey-doing-abkhazia)
Recently problems have emerged regarding the protection and restoration of sites of historical heritage. Georgia would like to see the restoration of Georgian historical religious monuments in Turkey, such as Oshki, Khandzta, Khakhuli, Tbeti, and others, and to keep their authentic character. The Turkish side wants to restore and build mosques in Batumi and other places in return. Even the smallest error in this delicate affair poses significant political risks. This is especially true since representatives of the previous government would like to heighten these risks by planning different provocations based on ethnic and religious themes.
It is impossible to hide growing funding of Islamic education in Adjara and other places by Turkish financial institutions. They finance religious schools and education for children from poor families. One can imagine how Turkey might react if the Georgian state or the Church began to finance Georgian schools and Christian institutions in areas of Turkey populated by the Laz – a people of Georgian origin, very closely related to Mingrelians.
Turkey is trying to master the resources of the Black Sea and the hydroelectric potential of the Mtkvari (Araks). Concerning the Black Sea, Turkey is rightly criticizing Georgia, since the pollution of the Black Sea brings losses for Turkey as well. On the other hand, Turkey can bring serious losses to Georgia and Azerbaijan by keeping Mtkvari resources to itself. The former government is responsible for this situation, having decided that the ecological threats to Georgia were worth ignoring in order to reap the financial rewards. It will not be easy to review or revise the signed documents.
Finally, in Adjara itself (mostly in Gonio and Batumi), along the Georgian central highway, and in Tbilisi as well, the “blossoming” of illegal brothels which serve mainly Turkish citizens may become one of the more serious sources of tension in relations between the two countries. The previous government was complicit in the growth of this problem to which no legislative or regulatory answer has been found. Irritation in the local population and the Georgian church is growing, as is the probability of personal or group conflict.
3.3 Negative Historical Realities
There is no need to talk about this extensively – in addition to Turkey there is probably only one other country (Iran) with which Georgia had such a negative history, including wars, destruction, torture, deaths, and slavery. But it is also indisputable that all of these terrible experiences occurred nearly one hundred years ago or earlier. In recent times one negative event stands out: the notably restrained reaction from the Turkish side during the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and the two-faced answer to the American request to allow the quick passage of American warships bound for Georgian ports. Turkey delayed the process of allowing their passage, in order to avoid angering Russia.
In August 2008, Turkish leaders are reported to have reminded their Russian counterparts about the Kars Treaty with a warning that if Russian troops entered Batumi, according to the abovementioned treaty, this could be followed by the entrance of Turkish troops into Adjara. There are different ways of understanding these statements. At the time of the war it was understood in a positive light, as a Turkish statement about defending Georgia from Russian aggression; later it became more controversial – especially in light of warmer relations between Russia and Turkey.
The question of the Islamisation of Turkey is still the most problematic. Whereas secular Turkey with EU membership ambitions was seen as a useful and multilateral strategic partner for Georgia, it will be more difficult to relate to such a partner if Turkey changes its pro-European course in favor of a course of Islamisation and neo-Ottomanism. Ideologically, the latter has already been established.
3.4 Positive Historical Moments which should not be forgotten
In 1991, after Georgia gained its independence, the Turkish Government played a serious role in the creation of genuine independence for Georgia, mostly through the financial strengthening of Georgia and by the joint development of energy and transportation projects. The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, as well as the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway, are all very important for Georgia’s geostrategic status. But one aspect of concern is that broadly speaking there is a strong connection and interdependency between the positive and negative aspects of Turkey and Russia for Georgia. Both are trying to prevent the strengthening of the other. This competition may not be bad for Georgia if it pursues proper, refined diplomacy as successful Georgian kings did in the past. Unfortunately, Georgia has had few such skillful rulers. In the past twenty-five years, when the main threats and challenges emerged from Russia, Turkey served as a strong and serious partner in Georgia’s neighborhood. But it is hard to say how long this status-quo will last. If Turkey decides that Russia is weakening, Turkey’s ambitions and the risks for Georgia may rapidly grow.
3.5 Negative Potential Perspectives which we cannot afford to neglect.
The prospects for the creation of a new Ottoman Empire were presented very effectively in Vasil Maghlapheridze’s article (in Georgian) “New Ottomanism, Azizie Mosque, and Crossroads” (http://for.ge/view.php?for_id=10417&cat=2). This article was published in April 2012 but has not lost its relevance; the events that have occurred since its publication supported his predictions. The growing Islamisation of Turkey and the revival of a new Ottoman Empire, are progressing quickly, under the guise of building upon a joint cultural and historical space. Its cornerstone has become increasingly evident: seclusion from the West, neglect of the dream of becoming part of the EU, creation of a foreign policy course independent from Europe and the USA, an offer of greater autonomy to some people (e.g. Kurds) living on the current and future territories of the Empire and, at the same time, consolidation of relations with Russia, Iran and the entire Muslim world, mostly in Africa and Middle East. The author of this theory, a former professor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Davutoğlu, is already a Prime-Minister. He has complete freedom and the President’s full support in realizing his views.
The ruling party – Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party – has profited greatly from the unexpected results of the “Arab Spring”. It also has experienced a very difficult internal political crisis (following the events of Taksim Square) and is convinced that the West provided strong ideological support for these protests. As a result, the Government began to take a very different position from the West on issues such as Syria, Iraq, and others. The rivalry between the West and Russia about Ukraine is furthering Turkey’s establishment of a separate position. Turkey is using the situation to its advantage, increasing Russia dependence, most recently demonstrated by Putin’s redirection of the South Stream gas pipeline to Turkey. If we assume that Russia has not yet asked Turkey to participate in the construction of the new gas pipeline underneath the Black Sea, it is possible that only Russia will finance this construction with Turkish agreement to participate. Of course, the “warm relations” between these two rival empires are rather instable and weak. A reinforced Turkey would be dangerous for Russia; Russia’s ownership of the idea of a Eurasian Alliance is most strongly challenged by a neo-Ottoman Empire. Russia is well aware of this and recognizes a growing rivalry in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, and Crimea. But Russia is so blinded by its rivalry with the West that it is ready to put aside its strategic rivalries with China and Turkey and temporarily ally with them. It seems unlikely that Russia truly intends to give Turkey effective control of its own gas corridor. Turkey could use a gas pipeline to blackmail Russia and Europe, especially if the routes coming from Central Asia and Azerbaijan pass through Turkey as well. Turkey would become the “Lord of the Rings” of gas.
At this moment in time Georgia’s risks are growing. Just as Russia and the US used Georgia as an important instrument for political reasons in the past, but did not treat it as a political actor in its own right, now Turkey and Russia may begin a similar game which could end with a familiar agreement, one that supports their imperialist interests but neglects Georgia’s interests. It is quite possible that, in contrast to the U.S. and the EU, these North-South games may become far more dangerous when both sides have the desire and the ruthlessness to capture and annex territories along with less democratic and transparent policies.
Under these conditions, the unexpected suggestion recently made by the former Speaker of Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, that Georgia proposes to the governments of Russia and Turkey that the gas pipeline passes through Georgia, not under the Black Sea, is both attractive and risky. It is not impossible that this proposal would be attractive only for Russia (since Russia’s costs for the gas pipeline would be reduced as a result), but not for Turkey. But if both countries considered this to be a profitable proposal, Georgia’s participation in this project would still carry not only potential benefits, but risks as well, since there would always be the danger that if a threat to this extremely expensive project emerged, both empires could demand the right to send troops to Georgia. Azeri, European, and American perceptions of the initiative could also become a problem. So long as Georgia is just trading wine, water, and agricultural produce, Western allies will not heighten their requests for Georgia to join the sanctions against Russia. But if Georgia helps Russia carry out a huge energy project at this time of confrontation, it would not be seen as a “neutral” and “domestic” decision taken by a strategic partner…
Part IV – CONCLUSIONS
- Georgia will have to exist for long time (or forever) at the crossroads of several empires and even more dangerously at the intersection of political interests of many powerful stakeholders. This reality contains both risks that threaten the country’s survival and enormous prospects. Whether this situation is used to the benefit of the country depends on the political wisdom and shrewdness of the Georgian government, and their ability to behave diplomatically and achieve a civil consensus.
- The Georgian government has to increase its understanding and knowledge of the recent past. By doing so it would come to recognize that it is far too dangerous to be an enemy of a superpower. Furthermore, it must not allow the country to be used as a blunt political weapon of one empire against another to realize external political interests. This is far easier said than done since it is inevitable that there will always be some powers who are Georgia’s strategic allies, while others fall into the opposite category. The paradox here is that while a “tripolar” structure may be more complex than a bipolar one, it would also provide a better balancing option than being caught in the middle of a head-to-head clash.
- It may sound equally paradoxical that instead of vigorous, determined movement in one direction, sometimes it is actually more beneficial and contributes more to stability to remain in a flexible “decision making” position for a certain period of time. No one is naïve enough to fail to understand that NATO’s door, which is supposedly partially open for Georgia, is in fact more closed than open. Russia is well aware of this. It is our government’s task to receive as comprehensive and realistic an answer as possible about when and in which circumstances that door may open in reality. Before that happens, it is unsurprising that Georgia’s current status, as a “best friend” or “golden ally” is dangerous, while frequent talks about pursuing or nearing the offer of a MAP is equivalent to waving a red flag in front of a raging Russian bull. In that regard, it would be very useful to understand the exact meaning of “NATO non-member, main strategic ally” status. However, this could be a case of “much ado about nothing”, as was the situation with Ukraine to which the US ultimately decided not to award this status, so as not to anger RussIa.
- In coming months a great deal of confusion will be cleared up – “whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open”. Russia leaders indicate that they have reasonable hopes that Western sanctions, announced in March 2014, will dry up after their one year term expires, since some EU members will not support their continuation. Therefore, it is quite possible that up until that period Russia may use all of its propaganda and military power to take control of as many districts in Eastern Ukraine as possible and instigate mass protests against the Ukrainian government. We may witness more terrorist actions in Southern and Western Ukraine. Russia wants to create de-facto (or maybe de-jure recognized) separatist enclaves in Ukraine, which will allow it to abandon its direct military engagement, achieve the abolition of sanctions, and to wait for a new window of opportunity (by further weakening the already weakened Ukrainian economy) when the separatist regions will allow it to repeat the same scenario of de-facto recognition of “Malorussia” as it did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. If the West fails to prevent this eventuality, it would have a bitter awakening effect on Georgian politicians when they come to realize that the West will never commit itself sufficiently or for long enough to prevent Russia’s expansionist ambitions, and Georgia will have to base its new strategy and tactics on that reality rather than sweet illusion. At the same time, one should also consider that resetting the geopolitical vector now may be as dangerous for Georgia as its process of leaving the Soviet Empire in 1989 and the 1990s. In light of serious domestic tensions and civil instability, there is a great deal of explosive material in the country which could be used by external forces at a time of serious shifts in policy. Therefore, it would be justified for Georgia to keep its Euro-Atlantic vector stable but to start a very cautious and balanced study of how acceptable it would be for all major stakeholders if Georgia were to exchange NATO aspirations for a regime of neutrality. Again, this guarantees nothing, as it did not help Moldova and Ukraine in recent years. They still experienced aggressive Russian pressure and their dreams of becoming a “new Finland” were completely groundless. We have to get as many assurances as possible from all three sides that our neutrality will not make our interests even more vulnerable and undefended than they currently are.
- We should not forget that that Euro-Atlantic rapprochement is not only desirable for geostrategic reasons, but also could bring a more just, democratic and viable model of statehood. Neither Russia nor Turkey could offer much in the way of replacement, at least for the time being. Their state systems are significantly more unjust and corrupt, and put more limits on individual freedom and human rights.
- The former government of Georgia often idolized Finland as a small heroic country fighting against the mammoth Soviet Empire. Regretfully, Saakashvili only started to talk about the Mannerheim Line and the strategic wisdom of the Finnish army and political leaders after the war with Russia was disastrously lost without the Georgian army digging even a single trench or even thinking about any line of defense. But interestingly the previous government’s PR efforts left out a very important part of Finland’s history – what the country did after losing significant territory in a war with Russia. Finland became a neutral state instead of joining NATO and also started to build a strategic trade partnership with Russia. These decisions gave this small country enormous financial advantage and good profits which were skillfully used by its leadership to build a viable economy and to construct one of the best models of democratic statehood at the very frontier of the Soviet Empire.
- Regretfully this model of a beneficial trade partnership and an economic bridge between Europe and Russia, creating a solid foundation for Abkhazians and Ossetians willing to reunite with Georgia, sounds very idealistic, if not utopian. At the time of the Cold War Finland was not a main target for the USSR, but rather on the fringes of its empire, left in peace, valuable as a token capitalist friend. Since Georgia was a main target for Russia until recently when it was replaced by Ukraine, it will not have the luxury of being the least important target on Russia’s list. The opening of the Russian market to Georgian wine and water may prove to be only a temporary “ottepel” before the next frost, when losing that market would backfire on Georgian producers and the economy if we had already lost alternative markets.
- Our main and most urgent task should be civil consolidation and impressive economic growth! Therefore we should try to move on from the past as quickly as possible. This will involve dealing with unfinished business: the persons who need to go on trial should go on trial, the property taken from owners unjustly and using force should be returned, the ones who need to confess, must confess, and the ones who can be pardoned, should be pardoned. And we have to follow the same path already traveled by others during even more difficult times, such as the Germans, Japanese, Italians, and Spaniards, to repair the broken civil peace and to revive the Homeland. We need to reintegrate not only the people who made mistakes and committed minor crimes against other citizens when Saakashvili was in power, but also Georgians emigrants, into our revived society.
It won’t be easy… It will be hard… Freedom and life can never be easy – to die or to become a slave is easier…
Acknowledgement: many thanks to Elisa MacFarlane, for brilliant editing and thoughtful advices.