In Armenia, super-velvet revolution can occur rather unexpectedly.
However, “there is no smoke without fire” and no revolutions are truly unexpected.
Serzh Sargsyan’s rule was the continuation of Robert Kocharyan’s rule. Likewise Kocharyan, Sargsyan could also easily find his loyal substitute, and quite possibly political turmoil would not have reach such a scale. Or, the transfer of power could have been even almost smooth.
Sargsyan has not only made Armenian people stunned with his authoritarian rule, the decline of democracy, and the economic stagnation of the country with the bigger corruption, than ever before for independent Armenia, but he was the one to tailor the constitution according to his own will, just like Vladimir Putin. And then he made the biggest mistake – he simply lied to the society when he promised that after two terms of Presidency he would not try to get any other seat – either presidential or of Prime-minister’s.. He promised that, and he “forgot” – hoping that people would also forget…
And even more, he did not even try to paint this lie – even a small play did not come to treat public dissatisfaction. Richard III says in the Shakespeare’s play that he is basically not willing to be a king, and stages the “public appeal” and finally just “subordinates” people’s request – “I did not want to, but I have to obey to my dear citizens’ will”…
After that, we have watched classical scenario which was described as one of the preconditions for revolution in the old Soviet textbooks: namely, the elites were not able to manage and the lay-people did not want to live such a life anymore.
Of course, there is one factor to be taken into consideration – Kocharyan and Sargsyan are Karabakhians and ascended to power in Armenia through Karabakh war. Patriotic optimism, which has been national spirit by the Karabakh war in the Armenian community, probably is no longer as high as it was 20 years ago, when Kocharyan was elected president and when the whole society and the political elite in capital have given power to those who won the war and who was the most important strategic partner of Russia – having Russia’s unconditional support … but for 20 years Karabakh’s official reunion has not occurred, and significant regional isolation due to Karabakh is obvious, Azerbaijan’s economic boom increasingly shifts balance between these – still-in-war countries, and Russia – against all odds tries to please not only its strategic ally – Armenia, but started to provide weapons also to Azerbaijan, by all these reasons already in the country and in particular in Yerevan, perhaps the prospect of the looks-now-eternal reign of Karabakhian elite results in more irritation or even frustration.
Sargsyan’s sudden resignation was not only sign of his political shrewdness, but he understood that his ambitions destabilized the country and were shaking power of his party. And he preferred to step back – thinking that he would not lose anything, securing Karapetyan’s premiership for next four years (or even less), and then he would return. That same model, which was already well-tested and certified in Russia by Putin-Medvedev tandem.
But Sargsyan was late. Nikol Pashinyan turned out to be a very strong opponent.
It is noteworthy that the Pashinyan is not a novice politician, as many believe: in his time he was close associate of the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian, and recently won 21 percent of Yerevan Mayor’s elections. He correctly assessed the level of discontent of people and benefited from the advantage that Sargsyan had given him by his selfish wish to remain in power. Stepping back was now late already, as the public got at streets and felt the power. Everyone understood that Sargsyan’s “leave” and Karapetyan’s stay would have changed nothing – again the Armenian Republican Party and its chair – Serzh Sargsyan – would be the ruler force. And Sargsyan would not have been “long gone” – Karapetyan would return the seat to him as soon as the public shouting sparked.
After that the events were changing with the kaleidoscopic speed – in Yerevan and other cities, the protests (and performances!) became increasingly massive and well-organized. The ruling party itself has already realized that Karapetyan’s attempt to keep the seat could easily turn the protests from velvet-ones to possibly-violent. In fact, not naming their own candidate, was probably the best solution for RPA– for easing tense situation, and at the same time to show to Nikol Pashinyan he could not become prime minister without the support of the ARP. It was an invitation for Pashinyan to negotiate with Republican Party if he wanted the second (and the final!) vote – would not end with the similar rejection on May 8th.
But, as we say in Georgia “the hail came and met the stone.”
Pashinyan only needed not even a whole day – to show what it means to be fully supported by the mobilized people and the right, well-calculated, patient, non-aggressive tactics. The entire blockade of roads, railway and airport ruled out the prospect of the ultimatum to Pashinyan.
At present, the situation is the following: Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) said it would support “People’s candidate who will get a vote of 1/3 in the parliament”.
Many have considered this as the capitulation of the RPA – that they are now ready to support the undisputed leader of the protest movement – Nikol Pashinyan (let’s consider that as option “A”).
We are not sure that this is true.
It is quite possible that the plan “B” has been worked out – if the government was agreed with Gagik Tsarukian’s block and “Dashnaktsutyun”, that these opposition factions would present their own candidate on May 8th session, and by having this new “People’s Candidate”, the Government of Armenia will try to get a new, – more acceptable than the Pashinyan – person for prime-ministership.
Another possible – “C” – option, which is less likely to be called, Alliance with the control of “cohabitated” governance – Pashinyan, as prime-minister, and RPA as a key force (controlling law enforcement and central election agencies) – the final outcome of which is not so difficult to predict, and such an outcome will more probably not be desirable for the Pashinyan’s camp.
One cannot exclude Armenian “cohabitation” – if the events are developing in this scenario – our readers should not be surprised. The point is that this kind of changes cannot be written in just by street’s power, given the firmness of the ruling political force in the Armenian political and business elite. Moreover, Sargsyan’s activity shall not be presented only in dark colors: for example, he has in fact diversified Armenian foreign policy, signing a special EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as some sort of counterweight to Armenia’s membership in the Russia-managing Eurasian Union. Besides, during Karapetyan’s prime-ministership Armenia achieved very impressive 7% economic growth rate.
If the Pashinyan’s candidacy is hampered by the opposition factions of the May 8th Parliamentary election and the voting option for the other “People’s Candidate” will be dropped (as a result of mass protest of the people in the streets), according to the Constitution of Armenia, the parliament shall be dissolved and new elections held.
And the new elections will be still carried out by the existing government, which has been holding Armenia for 20 years already!
Of course, it is impossible to be sure in anything, but we think the chances of the Pashinyan’s repeated turndown is higher, as the fate of the future government of Armenia cannot be resolved without Moscow. And for Moscow, and in particular for the newly reelected-once-again Vladimir Putin, not only is it important to see the government in Armenia that he has experienced and trusts, but also the form of transfer of power itself. Pashinyan has shown a convincing political shrewdness when he said that he would not leave the Eurasian Union and “ODKB” in case he is elected as the premier, but he also emphasized that he plans to negotiate with Russia on certain issues, and expressed his wish to negotiate with the EU as well. Russian would rise brows on such bi-directional foreign policy. But the main thing is another – a bad precedent for Putin will be merely the fact of the victory of the Velvet Revolution in Armenia – it might rise same aspirations Russia and, moreover – a hope for the success of those aspirations!
So, if the domestic political influence on the Armenian affairs will continue to be the main impact of the events, then any results can be achieved, including Nikol Pashinyan’s smooth election on May 8th. Such an outcome could be possible if Armenian (yet) opposition would be successful in convincing the Russians that the velvet revolution is only an “Armenian” issue and there is no more (geopolitical) element in it than merely change of domestic power. In this case, the Pashinyan will be easily endorsed by the Parliament. However, we shall remember that this process will not be completed by the end of May 8th and the main test is waiting for him after the coronation: when the real contours of the Armenian opposition movement and the goals and dreams of society, as well as Moscow’s attitude to the changes in Armenia will be revealed. And not just of Moscow: We have almost heard nothing about Baku and Ankara’s attitude towards current developments, at least in the form of public opinions…
And if our projection is justified and the May 8th parliamentary session ends without election of prime-minister (which automatically means the new parliamentary elections, carried out by the government of acting Prime Minister Karapetyan), it would be proof that the Russian influence in the Armenian Gambit was still a decisive factor – affirming the familiar scenario and familiar partner (or maybe – simply lack of strategic vision of Russians?)
If the main participants of the Armenian process will try and successfully convince Moscow that any configuration power will remember well who is the “true friend” of the country, the velvet transfer of power will only win. We have started this article by mentioning Shakespeare, and would end by another his quote from Macbeth, which later was applied by contemporaries regarding King Charles I of England as that “nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.
In any case, the history of such rapid and could-be-fundamental changes reveals a rule: one important thing is to change (even at the expense of extraordinary efforts) the system, and the second – and the more difficult task – the ability to navigate correctly after the change, balancing internal and external threats.
Hopefully, the common sense and peace will prevail in our neighboring Armenia!
(Concise translation of last part of the post on Georgian).
There are not so many cases in modern history when the highest-ranking official, after losing elections, decides to adopt citizenship of a foreign country and then tries to conquer Olympia in other state’s politics. Georgians had somewhat similar experience with Shevardnadze (returning back to Tbilisi from Moscow), though it was rather a special historical context with empire dissolving, new independent state emerging, etc…
But to my knowledge, it is with Mikheil Saakashvili that we are witnessing an unprecedentedly unique experiment in the world politics – a person, who is under 4 different investigations in his homeland has relocated to another country (a strategic ally of Georgia!), adopted this country’s citizenship (automatically refusing his Georgian one), claims to be #1 reformer in the new land and doesn’t make secret of his intentions to target its highest political positions!
At the same time, it is obvious (and many of his admirers both at home and abroad admit to this fact readily) that with the denial of Georgian citizenship, Mikheil Saakashvili has not at all seized an opportunity for a triumphal return to Georgian politics. Nevertheless, many have assessed his departure to Ukraine – along with several dozen faithful and skilled team members – as an attempt to set up a “platzdarm”, a springboard that would toss him back to Georgia. This very scenario – willingness to run political processes in both countries simultaneously – makes Misha’s case a truly unique adventure.
Brief excerpt from one of my first blogs called – “Journalists and Urnalists” https://solomonternaleli.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/154/
The very sharp and interesting documentary by Nino Zuriashvili (Studia Monitori) depicts dramatic fate of Georgian televisions. http://www.ijp.ge/video_blank.php?vid=38
In 2004, when UNM came to power, there were 12 independent TV companies in Georgia, 4 of which had nation-wide coverage and at least 6 were independent from government control. In just 4 years since the Rose Revolution, 11 out of 12 (all but “Caucasia TV”) have changed their ownership or lost the broadcasting license! The studies funded by European Union and Transparency International-Georgia have shown that TV ownership is directly correlated with the degree of state control of those television companies, and eventually, public trust is affected by the identity of TV company owners.
In 2009, despite legal constraints, owners of 45 TV channels (Misha has replaced the quality by quantity to cover up the decline in media-freedom indecies), have been either acting (or former) members of government or their close relatives; in Akhmeta district – the owner was the local municipality itself! It was later revealed that persons close to the government, (or their relatives/neighbors) would suddenly and unexpectedly become owners of large packages of television companies’ shares, sometimes in several companies at the same time. In this spirit, dubious off-shore company called Degson Limited Holding, owned two reputable tv companies, “Rustavi 2” and “Mze”. Another mystical organization – Denial Union – owned 100% of “Sakartvelo” (a tv company associated with the Ministry of Defense) and 51% in “Evrika”.
The legal structure/status of an Arab investment company called “Rakeen”, along with its supposed subsidiary “Rakeen Georgia Holding” (which owned 90% in “Imedi”, another major tv company) was also quite uncertain. In 2010, the management of Rakeen denied any connection with “Rakeen Georgia Holding”, which further strengthened the suspicion that the real owners of this company were Georgians, and most probably, closely affiliated with the United National Movement. http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=21950
The primary shareholders (by year 2007) were Kibar Khalvashi, Davit Bezhuashvii, an off-shore “Geomedia Group” and a company called “Magi Stili”, founders of which were Gogi Gegeshidze and Irakli Chikovani. Kibar Khalvashi was deleted from this list the same day when his friend and government’s primary fulcrum Irakli Okruashvili resigned, while the owners of 6 different tv companies (“Rustavi 2”, “Mze”, “Imedi”, “Obiektivi”, “Evropa”, “Sakartvelos Khma”) have been seeking to restore their violated rights with the help of judicial organs since 2008…
to Western Diplomats
The positive side of Mikheil Saakashvili was that he knew the fundamentals of democracy and could talk in the western way.
The flaw of Mikheil Saakashvili was that he mainly needed the knowledge of fundamentals of democracy and western conversation manners for one thing – to cover up his own oriental, autocratic aspirations. I’m not sure if he managed to learn anything from his fiasco in Georgia. I’m afraid he only learned that he ought to hide his intentions better; though his leaked telephone conversations wouldn’t necessarily allow us to conclude that either.
It is clear why you liked Mikheil Saakashvili – he was talking your way and was quite effective in it. It is evident why you would want to use his energy, charisma and talent in Ukraine…. May God help you with that! And I was sincere recently when I wished some young people from Ukraine to use the knowledge that Saakashvili and his Guard possess in the field of corruption, but to scrutinize with attention that the tools elaborated against corruption, do not simultaneously construct a machine for “milking” the local businessmen – including honest ones. One can create such a machine very easily, and the team of Mikheil Saakashvili is fairly (and admittedly) skilled in doing this. By the way, tens of thousands of appeals have been made against the former government officials by ordinary Georgians on cases of criminal misappropriation of property.
But can’t you see that this person is also the source of your problems?
Can’t you see that he is rather unwilling to follow your instructions and can change your assignments for his own benefit?
Don’t you see that he, working as the Governor of Odessa, would not give up his dreams of creating chaos in Georgia, and in fact, is already working on a bloodshed scenario?
Mikheil Saakashvili has several times stated openly and clearly that he and his party will come back to Georgia and that it will happen this year – in the autumn of 2015, as a matter of fact!
I have two questions in this regard:
- How can the comeback take place in 2015, if the next parliamentary elections are due only in October of 2016?
- 2Can you also reflect more deeply on why Mikheil Saakashvili wants it to happen specifically this year?
My logical answers are very simple:
1.Mikheil Saakashvili knows very well that he and his party cannot come to power by means of elections! Even according to the IRI and NDI data, if the rating of the Georgian Dream has decreased by almost 2 or 3 times (I am not going to discuss the plausibility of this issue now), the rating of the Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) has not increased at all! What does this mean? It’s easy – people may be disappointed with the Georgian Dream, but the same people are not going to allow that the party – which by means of fraud, media subordination, unjust courts and persecution of political opponents ruled the country for 9 years – is brought back to power. This was a government, which made itself “memorable” by using police and “zonders” to intimidate opposition and public, to extort money from private companies, a government which overcrowded jails and whose trademark skill was to inflict cruel and degrading punishment on inmates.
The thing that you so liked in the Government of Mikheil Saakashvili was a charming, visible upper chunk of the iceberg of systemic intimidation and harassment. What we knew and what you get to discover in 2012 (and afterwards), is the disgusting, latent part of this iceberg. Since the leader of the United National Movement has not been held responsible for this and has not asked to be pardoned, since the party still has not distanced itself from its criminal leaders, it is illusory, on the part of UNM, to even think about returning to power.
2. And why now – in autumn of 2015? Does anything happen after autumn (namely, December), which makes always active Mikheil Saakashvili even more heedless and impulsive?
The answer is evident: in December, Georgia will be finalizing the implementation of the third recommendation package within the framework of EU-Georgia Association Agreement. On the basis of the above-mentioned, the decision on visa liberalization must be made.
For Mikheil Saakashvili and his team, which bases its entire propaganda machine on the supposed pro-Russian character of the “Georgian Dream”, it was a catastrophe to see Georgia signing the EU Association Agreement last year. And today, due to a strange reality, maybe even more than Vladimir Putin, it is Mikheil Saakashvili who does everything in his powers to block the Georgian authorities from attaining the visa liberalization agreement with European Union, as this will finally ruin his plans for “a revolutionary return”.
The proof of this attempt can be found in last week’s bold efforts of some UNM MPs, who were trying hopelessly to include in the draft resolution of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee provisions that would in fact suspend the association process all together. The Members of the European Parliament could not hide their astonishment when the MPs of the allegedly pro-European parliamentary minority intentionally tried to stop Georgia’s advancement to Europe. Fortunately, the Chairman of the meeting and Georgia’s European partners, who expressed disapproval of UNM’s overall disposition at the meeting and its constant attempts to violate the procedural rules, prevented this provocative plan from succeeding. Isn’t it obvious, though, that the political emigrant in Odessa, who does not seem to ever agree to reconsider his triumphant return plans, is the one causing this mayhem?
And the plan is the following: if Georgia is refused the visa-free regime with EU, UNM will begin organizing nationwide protest rallies under the pretense of halting the pivot of Georgia towards Russia. At the same time, they will try to provoke clashes with the supporters of pro-Russian parties, creating a “revolutionary situation”. Finally, UNM will use its well-amassed barricades and ammunition to bring forth their armed supporters (remember Misha’s advise to his team members to collect Boeviks at Rustavi2 TV) and further destabilize the situation. Hopefully, the evidence for these plans will not be limited to doubtful – and yet quite authentic-sounding – sources, and the investigation on the conspiracy for toppling a state government will not be endless.
And while Mikheil Saakashvili, with his desire to stage a second revolution in Georgia, is not refraining to use Rustavi 2 for his political goals, can your justified appeal to protect media independence and pluralism in Georgia be wrongly perceived by the great majority of Georgian population as not necessarily a defense of Rustavi2, but an attempt to enable the adventurous plans of Mikheil Saakashvili and his violent marginal supporters? Can it be perceived as an indirect contribution to the efforts of destabilization in the most democratic country of the region? Don’t you think that being associated with an adventurous hothead such as Mikheil Saakashvili, throws a shadow on your reputation – at least in Georgia? Don’t you understand that in a situation like this, you have to at least stand aside from such efforts and maybe even advise Mr. Saakashvili to sit only in one (Ukrainian) chair and not worry about “taking care” of two countries at the same time? Unfortunately, I heard such a statement – expressed diplomatically, but quite clearly – only from Her Excellency, the Ambassador of Great Britain. In my humble opinion, during the last 50 years, no one caused more damage to the image of the USA, the West and the western values in this country than Mikheil Saakashvili. And he keeps on doing that…. It is very bad, if I see this and you can’t. If you wish him to continue like this, well, so be it…
What have the Georgian authorities done that you do not wish to dissociate yourselves from Misha’s comparisons of the Georgian government to Yanukovich’s dishonorable administration and the current reality of Georgia to Kiev’s Maidan? Don’t you have, in the US Congress or some European Parliaments, a few people that approve of Stalin or Putin’s personalities? Haven’t the members of your governments been put in jail for corruption and the abuse of power? Will not it be strange if we, because of the mentioned reasons, speak about political persecution of your ex-powermen and put the decisions of your courts under suspicion?!
Certainly, the judiciary of Georgia cannot boast of the same reputation as European or US courts, and that is exactly why the incumbent authorities of Georgia have asked you to actively participate in the court proceedings against the former government officials or send your representatives to attend them. You have refused it. And now, after several verdicts on some high-level former officials have been known, we hear your criticism on political retribution that you keep on repeating with the same regularity and intensity as diplomats usually do against the authorities of much less democratic countries!
The things have gotten to a point when the Member of the European Parliament, who kept suspiciously silent when visiting one other country of the region, after arriving in Georgia, vented excessively regarding the supposed political persecutions.
Can’t you see that the writ issued by a judge at 17:00 was delivered to the editorial staff of Rustavi 2 by its lawyers only at 23:30? Can’t you see how poor and artificial the performance of “decisions, made at night” looks – staged, paradoxically, by the same force, which was registering thousands of properties just after midnight and even had its own so-called “night notaries”?!
Our last 25 years are the years of new tests, new hopes and new disappointments. The fact that almost third of Georgian population has emigrated from the country (something we only learned recently, for the former authorities were not at all interested in delving in such issues!) is an evidence that the destiny of the citizens of independent Georgia has not been full of joy and delight. The proof of this is also the occupation and annexation of more than 20% of the Georgian territory. During this period, the population of Georgia, with patience, weary of heavy thoughts, tries to keep optimism that our long-standing hopes of European integration will be finally coming true…
Time passes, authorities change, more and more Georgians go (or are born) abroad… and the door, open to us, is still partially open…The recent elections in Sagarejo district showed that forces that believe that people like me – who look to Europe with 25 years of patience – are mistaken, are gathering rather strong support. Not to see this is a mistake, blaming it on the “Georgian Dream” coalition is foolish! It will be much more appropriate, if you put responsibility on Mikheil Saakashvili and his loyal United National Movement, for they were given so much and still managed to fail. They have exchanged true democratic values for barrels of videotapes and compromising materials… it will be much more accurate to blame the strange process of co-habitation, rather than “restoration of justice”, for what has happened – As a matter of fact, the low ratings of the Georgian Dream today, can be well explained by the delay in restoring justice.
Restoration of justice was not going to happen under old prosecutors and judges or Kublashvili’s Supreme Court. The fact that the process was called co-habitation makes many citizens think that the delay was the result of the request by the West and not due to objective reasons… By the way – “delayed justice” is often stated as the main argument why the “Patriotic Alliance” and other (loyal-to-Russia) opposition forces are gaining weight. To strengthen their stance, they will most likely use your criticism of the current government to their advantage, while at the same time dwelling on the grievances of a considerable part of the Georgian population, who view the western supporters of Saakashvili in disdain.
You might not agree with me, but Saakashvili and Bokeria know perfectly well that they do not stand any chance, not only to come back to power, but even to remain as the main political opposition for the upcoming elections. The relatively “cleaner” part of the UNM wasted its chance to distance itself from its criminal leadership, and become a much smaller party, or set up a different kind of a coalition – let us see what will become of “Girchi” (new political force of four ex-UNM members).
As to the formation of new political center around the President, I’d be pleased to see the creation of a new, serious democratic entity, but very little time is left until the 2016 elections. Despite of certain empathy, I think that Free Democrats do not possess sufficient organizational resources, taking into account that their regional organizations are losing structure. As for the individual experts and human rights defenders – them gathering together around Margvelashvili does not automatically imply a new party; their unity will have to be thoroughly tested by contest of interests and ambitions… At the same time, such democratic newborn force might certainly have better chance for political maturity in 2020, than UNM – with its hardly realistic political survival.
If you wish the processes to go on, as they were until now, then change nothing… Continue “politically correct” and beautiful conversations, but don’t be surprised of some regrettable outcomes in the end. The result is always what we deserve – due to our incorrect calculations, due to being caught in other’s trap, due to our tendency to believe what we want to believe…
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.
Georgia on our mind – Alternative Strategies and Surrealism of “Cohabitation” – Is Saakashvili Planning Counterstrike in April 2013?Posted: 2012/12/18
“Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.” (Abraham Lincoln).
For last month, the favorite slogan of western politicians towards the Georgian ones became an appeal to “Cohabitation”.
While idea of productive and civilized nearly-partnership between the government and opposition sounds elegant and utmost democratic, that is awfully far from Georgian nowadays reality and I try to explain, why it is so.
For the coming year Georgian politics will be given mainly two choices of alternative strategies:
a) the rigid one, which may be called “The winner takes it all”
b) or the softer one, which can be titled as “Survival for disarmament”.
However, the most interesting fact is that it is not the ruling party – Georgian Dream (GD), but the now-oppositionary, once mighty United National Movement (UNM), who should make the decisive choice between those two strategies. The paradox can be easily explained (though I am afraid western politicians either don’t, or won’t see this obvious fact) – it is the UNM, which still holds what I would call – A “Weapon of Mass Destruction” (WMD), and it is mainly pending on UNM leader’s decision whether to start a “disarmament”, – will the Georgian politics follow a rigid and dreadful confrontation, or a peaceful and civilized path of cohabitation.
First of all I would not discuss much how relevant is the fact of western politicians so dramatically questioning detainment of former governmental officials. Since the defeat of Saakashvili’s regimen prosecution has over 7,000 claims of Georgian citizens against former officials – and I don’t think anybody would dare to doubt whether that avalanche of claims is artificial. I wonder, who will say that politics should prevent justice and law to rule.
But let’s try to concentrate on issue of “cohabitation” and how sincerely former leadership thrives to achieve that “harmony”.
Explaining Saakashvili’s WMD – Georgian president, according to most absurd constitution which shrewd tailors tailored specifically for him in 2010 has one “magic wand” which I did call “WMD”. Here it comes: In a period of 1st – 30th of April, 2013 (6 months from parliamentary elections and 6 months before new presidential elections) President of Georgia can (without specific reasoning!) fire Prime-Minister and all powerful ministers (Justice, Interiors, Defense and Finance) and propose to the Parliament the candidates he trusts. Parliament may surely object that move, however, if President repeats his proposal twice more and Parliament objects all 3 times, then it signs verdict for itself: President will dissolve the Parliament as well and appoint new elections in 2 months term! (Actually, Saakashvili can dismiss the ministers any time he wishes, even now, but it is the Parliament’s dissolution which is only possible in that magic period of April, 2013!)
Now imagine that – Central Election Commission is still leaded by Saakashvili’s man – Zurab Kharatishvili, Supreme Court – similarly by Saakashvili’s man Kote Kublashvili, similarly – National Bank of Georgia and State Audit Service are under Saakashvili loyalists. If now Saakashvili adds Vano Merabishvili as a powerful Prime Minister, and – Data Akhalaia (still at large) or even his more notorious brother Bachana (now in prison waiting for trial on multiple accounts, but Saakashvili can pardon him personally any moment he decides so) – as a Defense and Interiors Ministers, this will be very different situation in a very different country! All that could be accompanied by imprisonment of current ministers on various charges (most notorious – being a spy for foreign country!).
Of course, one can say that as UNM’s current rating is only 13% vs. 63% of GD (according IRI recent poll), snap elections will bring the same result as in October, or even more disappointing (for Saakashvili) one. But I doubt that. And here it’s why:
– Since October 2nd Saakashvili prizes himself for allowing Ivanishvili’s party to win in what he calls in fair and transparent elections. Let me refrain from discussion how much “fair and transparent” that election was and why Saakashvili hasn’t used all his power of manipulation and intimidation, but, please, pay attention to another thing which became Saakashvili’s mantra since then: “In a truly democratic country power transfer should happen at least twice in two consecutive elections” – he says and says endlessly. So, Saakashvili’s demand to western allies would be this – “I gave chance to defeat myself to GD in October, now it’s GD’s turn to allow UNM to take power back…” Saakashvili will this time use all 100% of his intimidation and manipulation techniques despite of what would the West say. In October he had some illusion that he might still win with the minor manipulations at regions, now he has no illusions and will make control shot.
– Certainly, only manipulations would not drug 13% above 50%. But UNM already has started his campaigns of sabotage and propaganda, which will be surely upgraded dramatically before April 2013. The main propaganda message so far is to spread a rumor in society – “Ivanishvili will not last more than 6 months! We will return in April!” Sabotage campaign so far is limited to 2 main issues: “criminal is unleashed! Public safety is at danger!” and “what a terrible religious intolerance around!” In fact there are alarming signs in both directions; however, there is terribly much ado about so far small something in Saakashvili-faithful media and by his fans at social media. At the same time there have been several episodes of finding large stocks of hidden ammunition ( http://dfwatch.net/large-ammunition-depot-found-in-south-georgia-64315 ). After 1st of October there were many cases when police didn’t come for citizen’s call – cynically responding – “you’ve got what you voted for!” and even now often some serviceman, answering to the emergency calls for certain accidents (water, sewage, electricity, gas) do not hide that they won’t come in time. Also, interestingly, since elections Tbilisi municipality has hired several hundreds new personnel on different newly established or expanded services (audit, special security, counseling, etc) – 90% of them are ex-government officials (like ex-minister of economics Vera Kobalia) which need “support until comback”. Similarly, many new NGO’s emerged (one leaded by ex-deputyr Foreign Minister Kapanadze) and just recently Saakashvili issued decree to support NGOs, establishing 1 million foundation, which is chaired by former deputy-minister of Foreign Affiars – Nino Kalandadze – guess to whom the money goes… Saakashvili seeds and feeds poison ivys of government subversion…
I envision some new frontiers of sabotage+propaganda in coming months:
- Currency rates manipulations and elements of Bank crisis;
- Shortage of electricity and gas supply (as the cold weather will be present) with possible increase on petrol prices;
- Some shortage of food supply and fear of food crisis with increased inflation
- Sea and train cargo problems;
- more criminal acts against foreigners;
- most critical ones – diversions on energy pipelines and at borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, probably in Samtskhe-Javakheti as well.
When I say – “Sabotage+Propaganda” – I really mean that combination. It may be just a little bit of subversion and maximum of propaganda. Much Ado about Something”.
Presumably, in all these systems and institutions there are people which may be ready for subversion acts. Please note, that food and petrol import was (and still is!) totally controlled by Saakashvili’s inner circle, National Bank is still governed by Saakashvili’s man, so is the National Security Council leaded by Giga Bokeria and all influential Ambassadors, which Saakashvili protects vehemently from being replaced by the new government! And in border patrol as well as in police still are some persons who wouldn’t mind Saakashvili returning to power in April. Therefore, some human resources for the sabotage campaign might exist in shadow waiting for a command sign.
Although I exclude that those acts of sabotage would be terribly widespread and seriously affecting national security. Those scattered episodes will not probably change weather, but would be enough ground for Saakashvili Goebelsian disinformation propaganda machine for modeling a storm both domestically and internationally. Giga Bokeria’s wife Tamara Chergoleishvili is engaged in developing new TV which will be all information/political talk shows, the new media will be funded by Pro-Saakashvili tycoons like ex-State Minister Kakha Bendukidze and ex-Defense minister David Kezerashvili. Rustavi2-TV is still controlled by close friends of Saakashvili – Karamanishvili brothers, and General manager is ex-Saakashvili Minister Nick Gvaramia. Similarly Georgian Public Broadcasting (TV1) still has the same Board composed by Saakashvili and will probably again choose a director according to Saakashvili’s taste. By using those resources along with strong lobbying companies and yet controlled embassies, would give Saakashvili perfect chance to multiply 10- or even 100-folds those single episodes of either sabotage or mistakes, and set up virtual reality that everything is disastrous in Georgia. While the UNM propaganda machine sets up the virtual reality for domestic and foreign audience, Saakashvili will travel along the world and direct his poisonous remarks toward Georgian government in style of braveheart William Wallace – “I must free my homeland from those tyrants!”
If the planned counterstrike is planned, the episodes of both subversion and UNM-propaganda must rise soon – before and after New Year. As a result uncertainty will grow and investments flow will shrink, with more time going and without significant achievement in economics felt, the 20-27% of society which now hesitates to reveal his potential sympathies, less and less will give their votes to GD. The now-ruling GD has given too much promises to the people, but coming to the power and discovered only 200 million GEL in treasure instead of announced by the UNM 2 billion, as well as due to committed by Merabishvili’s government transfer of the funds from state budget to the municipal and President-controlled funds, also due to huge International debts accumulated by Saakashvili and interests to be paid – all these made those pre-election promises nearly impossible to be met. There should be reasonable doubt that UNM will collect all of those hesitant votes, but the image of “victims” which they try to embed, and possible marriage with UNM-made “born to be called oppositionary” parties like Christian-Democratic movement, Labor party, National Democrats and some others could create a solid base to which CEC and [back to Misha’s control] police will add the rigged results of snap elections. Therefore, usage of the above-called “WMD” by Saakashvili in April 2013 seems not all that stupid, especially as it is indeed the very last chance for Misha to regain lost power.
Most of westerners – reading my hypothesis about UNM-planned counterstrike in April would consider that groundless “conspiracy theory”. I have no prove, but please note that on December 14th many influential UNM members, including ex-deputy Justice minister and ex-Chair of Public Registry and now MP (UNM) George Vashadze have posted a strange one-word post in their Facebook – saying only this – “April!” (some others – “in April”). When he was asked what exactly was meant in this strange phase, he tried not to answer, smilingly saying that April is simply an important month in Georgia, that there was renewing of Georgia’s independence in April and it is a month when Spring and revival really come to Georgia (!)
Well, it should be obvious that GD – PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, Parliament, and the Government of Georgia will not solemnly observe all that jazz played by Saakashvili and the rigid strategy will be met by equally rigid counterstrike.
GD has already established a department in the government responsible for communication strategy, as it was admitted that UNM has won the first round of post-election communication battle, portraying themselves in a skin of poor victims. West has no time, and probably even no intention, to go in deep details what is the reason of so many ex-officials being or to be detained. For being a long-time partner of Saakashvili, it should be indeed damned hard to admit that what they fed for all those years was simply a democrat-shaped authoritarian regime, something like Peruvian president Fujimori along with sadistically cruel Interiors Montessino (I would like to refer to very interesting article by Irakli Zurab Kakabadze called Orwell Today – http://arcade.stanford.edu/orwell-today)
Equally important is to reveal those thugs – in police, financial or energy sectors – which may have engaged in sabotage campaign… Surely that needs to be done with crystal clarity and objective investigation.
Equally important is to reveal modeled propaganda… surely without censorship to be reinstated.
But as the main element of Saakashvili strategy lies in “magic wand” of April counterrevolution, the main element of GD strategy might be to deprive Saakashvili of his “WMD”! If that is done, all other strikes and counterstrikes would be already unnecessary to worry about. By neutralizing main threat coming from Saakashvili, GD will have chance to ignore other destructive games and concentrate on economy and social sector’s rebuild.
Two major tactics of neutralization are as follow:
– presidential impeachment – clearly the most irritant for the West path, as West loves obedience to the terms of election and there is nothing wrong with this conservatism;
– earlier implementation of constitutional changes, now set for October 2013. This sounds as rather sophisticated tactics, as according to Georgian constitution President holds his office for no more than 5 years. And after snap elections of 2008 that term now expires Jan 20th, 2013. It is true that according to 2010 amendments presidential elections are set to be carried out in October, however, the amenders have forgotten to amend the former paragraph, which now creates a constitutional conflict. Possible solutions might be the following:
- a) Along with announcing constitutional reform earlier onset, parliament might approve that snap presidential elections are held in 2 months after the term of Saakashvili expires on Jan 20, 2013; with the subsequent Presidential elections to be held in month of October (according to constitution), but earlier than 5 years from March, 2013 elections – October 2017.
- b) Along with announcing constitutional reform earlier onset, Parliament adopts a special exclusion that President Saakashvili holds his position (though already with changed – diminished responsibilities and functions!) until presidential elections of October 2013. Then the circle of every 5 year elections continues.
Needless to say that both options require constitutional majority in the Parliament.
So, the main vector of GD counterstrategy in case of UNM’s rigid strategy would be to acquire constitutional (2/3) majority and enact constitutional changes earlier – at least before April, 2013, making Misha’s “magic wand” void.
Both sides desperately need to seed a hope among the supporters and despair a hope among the opponents. That’s why their strategy is brutally rigid and excludes any liberal attitude towards yet undefeated opponent. Therefore all appeals regarding “Cohabitation” are useless. Nobody believes in cohabitation with the rival which has rigid strategy and WMD against the one to follow “the winner takes it all” principle. So the appeals for democratic stance from the UNM sounds utmost cynical after all those years of total control of media and courts, suppression of lawyers and intimidation of free journalists, after hundreds of cases of political detainment and dozens of political refugees, recognized by the governments of US, Canada, Germany, France and Switzerland. Only 0.03% of acquittal at UNM ruled courts, almost 30,000 prisoners and over 100,000 on probation, hundreds of millions USD taken from Georgian citizens as process agreement fees and used to buildup Reichstag-type super-palace for the President of defeated state… several years imprisonment for stealing goods worth of <$10 and only 2-3 years (often on probation) for torturing and killing young people, absolutely fake cases against spy-journalists, against invented “Russian-spy/terrorists” trying to explode US embassy – all these cases are now on renewed trial. Already over 7,000 Georgians have complained that former government robed them, killed their relatives, taken their goods, threatened and confiscated their property, fabricated cases and put them in jail, fired or jailed on political grounds… That’s why Saakashvili has only the last chance to impress the world, which tomorrow – after the trials are over – might hear a very different story regarding Georgian version of “Animal farm” or even – of “1984”.
A Soft Strategy
Surprisingly the soft strategy differs not much from the rigid one – it only considers the main actors replacing their roles and actions.
The start-up point could have been self-disarmament of the UNM!
That may sound ridiculous, but it is not. President Saakashvili needs to give up his “magic wand” – an opportunity to dismiss both the government and the parliament in April! In case he himself initiates the earlier enacting of constitutional reform, then GD will have no fear of power removal and logically its actions will also become much softer.
– in case president doesn’t have chance to dismiss the whole parliament and government in April, GD’s strategy for presidential impeachment through acquisition of 2/3 majority in the parliament sounds not as important as it is so far. Similarly, central government might distance more vigorously from process of local governments’ “reshape” due to local residents protest actions.
– Former Speaker of UNM and now the fiercest rival of Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze calls now up for “deNacification” of Georgian politics and some sort of Nuremberg trial of UNM (accepting, by the way, her personal role and responsibility also to be put in the trial). However, by doing the above mentioned self-disarmament, UNM has good chance to survive as a political party, although a re-branding might be still imminent for them.
– if the above-mentioned sacrifice will be performed by Saakashvili, there is no doubt that West would be much more demanding in its stance for “Cohabitation” and maybe even some political guarantees for Misha will be taken at the table of discussion.
So this is what might be a good agenda for Soft strategy – UNM will remain as influential opposition and have political survival; Saakashvili may serve his term till end (October 2013) peacefully. There is no guarantee that some of UNM leaders who committed crimes will escape the trails (and they should not – justice should be empowered in Georgia), but certainly some shorter terms could be sentenced and may be in some cases, whenever suitable, financial punishment (property confiscation), probation or something else might be found as enough measure.
When I called the constutional “magic wand” of Saakashvili as “WMD”, it was of course exaggeration; however, there is a large portion of truth in this joke. I‘ll try to explain why I think so:
In case Mikheil Saakashvili (as a well-known bloody-risky politician, which despite of US warnings engaged in a war with nuclear superpower) really decides to use that weapon – groundlessly dismissing the government and the parliament and reinstating his guard as a self-appointed ruling gang, nobody should have doubts this won’t be met with the lambs silence! After all those years of fear and intimidation the main gaining so far are the political freedoms which Georgian citizens have regained since the win of GD. It will be impossible to “enslave” people again. Quite possibly both in police and in army there will be commanders happy with Misha’s return, but there will be units which could remain faithful to Ivanishvili’s government. And so we would have terrible clashes which rapidly could become a full-scale civil war.
So that strategy will then definitely be a WMD for Georgians self-termination…
US and Western politicians have been long-term ally for Mikhail Saakashvili. They often regarded him as an exemplary regional reformer and “beacon of democracy”. I strongly disagree with those overestimated applauds – whilst being more western-minded than his ex-USSR neighbors, still if Saakashvili was a beacon, than a beacon of façade-democracy and of plutocracy.
So, remembering an excellent advice of President Lincoln, it probably would be wise for western politicians to depart from what clearly became wrong assumption quite time ago…Better late than never… If they really prefer to have a peaceful resolution for fierce political confrontation in Georgia, they have to carefully evaluate Mikheil Saakashvili’s desire to be a man of peace and cohabitation, not of a confrontation and plotting…
Once West made a terrible miscalculation on that account…
To: Editorial Board of Washington Post,
cc: Editorial Board of Economist
You have expressed some level of surprise, concern, disapproval or alarm due to detention of former government members in Georgia. Some of yours have seen the similarity between those detentions and of imprisonment of ex-PM of Ukraine – Yulia Timoshchenko. You have fear that Georgian prosecution’s actions may have been politically motivated.
You now see the photo of passport which belongs to somebody named “Levan Maisuradze”, but has a photo of ex-PM Ivane (Vano) Merabishvili.
As President Saakashvili and Vano Merabishvili have travelled to Yerevan November 30 afternoon to participate in EPP party Conference, President’s protocol serviceman has given this very passport to Passport Control officers at Tbilisi International Airport. I have reasonable doubts, that this (and similar) fake passport(s) is used by Vano Merabishvili to manage his secret assets abroad and/or to carry out secret meetings, but he has given it by mistake to the Passport Control officials, which registered an attempt to use fake document for border crossing.
Georgian MIA decided not to hinder President Saakashvili’s visit to Yerevan and Mr. Merabishvili was given chance to present his “real” passport – with his name. Upon what he has been registered and left to Armenia.
When the delegation returned from Yerevan, Vano Merabishvili has left the airport along with President Saakashvili, avoiding answering MIA officials’ questions. MIA did not try to stop President’s escort avoiding political scandal.
Vano Merabishvili was requested to visit Chief Prosecutor’s office next day. He did appear at requested time, but refused his questioning to be recorded and as MIA officials later stated, completely refused to collaborate with the investigation, by not answering questions and calling obvious facts a provocation.
Now, I have a question to you – would you consider this fact enough ground for ex-PM to be interrogated? Or you suggest it is absolutely normal that ex-PM and ex- Minister of Interiors travelling by fake passport? Would you call a criminal investigation against Mr. Ivanishvili “politically motivated”?
Solomon Ternaleli, a blogger