Кавказское сотрудничество

Nikolai Silaev: Russia-Georgia: Will Disorientation Become Productive? 28.05.2017

Nikolai Silaev: Russia-Georgia: Will Disorientation Become Productive?

With the informal leadership of Bidzina Ivanishvili Georgia managed to achieve the results of foreign policy that were virtually unattainable for its former leadership. Having normalized relations with Russia to a level that almost excludes the possibility of a direct conflict and allows benefiting from trade and economic ties, Tbilisi, meanwhile has made a great progress in its integration with European and Atlantic structures. Military cooperation has significantly increased between Georgia and NATO, and with Georgia and the United States. The granting to Georgian citizens of the right of visa-free entry into the EU was an important symbol of rapprochement with the European Union.

Increasing cooperation with the US and the EU on a wide range of issues Georgia at the same time managed to avoid a strong involvement in the confrontation between Russia and the West that arose in connection with the crisis in Ukraine and maintain developing trade ties with Russia in the context of economic sanctions announced against it and Response Russian embargo on the supply of goods from a number of countries. All this makes Georgia, apparently the most successful country of the three former Soviet republics (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) who signed agreements on association with the European Union. The convincing victory of Ivanishvili's party "Georgian Dream" in the parliamentary elections in Georgia last October among other things reflects on the recognition of foreign policy successes by the voters of the informal leader of the country.

However, these successes are palliative. Achieving good tactical results in a difficult international situation, Georgia has come close to improving this very situation. It does not eliminate its fundamental vulnerabilities but only partially mitigates the harm it causes. Georgia remains a country with disputed borders that does not have diplomatic relations with Russia, the largest and most powerful neighbor. Georgia remains outside the international security system not having allies in this field, with which it would be bound by legally binding agreements.

The dispute over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian military presence in these two republics do not allow Georgia to join NATO, to which Georgia seeks. Georgian politicians who promise membership in this bloc are forced to mislead voters for many years, which the voters begin to guess about. The free trade zone with the European Union does not provide Georgia with accelerated growth of exports and development of its own production and does not help solve the chronic problem of the Georgian economy in the form of a huge negative trade balance.

In 2016 – 2017 three global trends arose, which could present new challenges to Georgia. First, Brexit became a symptom of the internal crisis of the European Union and the European project itself. Similar symptoms - for example, in the form of growing popularity of Eurosceptic political forces - are trying to eliminate Euro optimistic elites of the continent with more or less success, but it is too early to speak about resolving the crisis. The topic of the expansion of the organization and, in general its external expansion for a long time has removed from the agenda. The question for Brussels now is how to settle internal contradictions in the European Union. The European perspective for Georgia is extremely vague.

Secondly, the future foreign policy course became the subject of internal political struggle in the United States. However, it is not necessary to expect significant changes in Russian-American relations, in the US approaches to European security, to the Ukrainian crisis, to the problems of the post-Soviet space as a whole, the sharp contradictions between supporters and opponents of the new American leader make it difficult to formulate and conduct a consolidated policy.

Possible reduction in US foreign policy activity will occur at the expense of the areas that are the least important for Washington, including Georgia. Note that Georgia from 2012-2013 did not become the topic of foreign policy discussions in the US Senate (with the exception of hearings on the candidacy of the ambassador). Interest in it was low already on the second term of office of the administration of Barack Obama. Reducing the costs of supporting of non-governmental organizations abroad, already conducted by the administration of Donald Trump will strike at the part of the Georgian political class that is oriented toward the close cooperation of the country with the West.

Thirdly, amid disagreements of internal political contradictions in the US and Brexit, in the Euro-Atlantic relations the crisis is showing itself. For the first time in many years, an ideological split between the US leadership and the leaders of the leading EU countries is evident. The program of the "Eastern Partnership" in 2008-2016 was under a certain patronage from the US, who saw it as a convenient tool for political influence on the countries of the post-Soviet space and at a critical time (for example, during the mass protests in Kiev in late 2013 and early 2014) could help their European partners.

Now such a consensus and a symbiosis is more difficult to expect between Washington and Brussels. At the same time Brussels has no power tools of its own. If three - four years ago the association of Georgia (and also Ukraine and Moldova) with the EU was a political project of the cumulative West, now it risks becoming a "solo" project of Brussels, the latter not showing any willingness to invest significant resources in this project.

Georgia has for more than a decade linked its foreign policy prospects (and overall national success) with as closely as possible integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. The crisis of this community calls into question the very goal setting of Georgian foreign policy. During this decade, the Georgian diplomacy has lost the ability to solve non-standard problems limiting itself to negotiations on the implementation of "homework" of Brussels. The Georgian political class, having an extensive network of contacts in the West, has practically lost productive contacts in Russia and other leading non-Western states. The Georgian strategy follows the path laid by Mikhail Saakashvili. Amendments to the foreign policy course have been made but they do not affect its essence.

Apparently, the normalization of relations with Russia has given some of the Georgian political class the illusion that Moscow is easily misleading, avoiding harsh rhetoric towards it, and simultaneously stepping up military cooperation with the United States and NATO in small steps. This illusion - sometimes referred to in Tbilisi as "strategic patience" - runs the risk of undermining the normalization of relations between the two countries and blocking the progress of political dialogue between them.

Apparently, the normalization of relations with Russia has given some of the Georgian political class the illusion that Moscow is easily misleading, avoiding harsh rhetoric towards it, and simultaneously stepping up military cooperation with the United States and NATO in small steps. This illusion - sometimes referred to in Tbilisi as "strategic patience" - runs the risk of undermining the normalization of relations between the two countries and blocking the progress of political dialogue between them.

In fact, Georgia is drawn into the impulsive policy of "restraining Russia," which US President Barack Obama took in the last two years of his tenure. At the same time, unlike the Baltic states, which accept units of other NATO countries on their territory and which were not considered and are not considered in Russia as a possible threatened direction in the event of armed conflict. Georgia, taking American units and military equipment on its territory, does not have Security guarantees from the North Atlantic alliance and has the experience of armed confrontation with Russia, tragic for all its sides.

Georgia takes risks, that having successfully followed the previously laid path - integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, deterrence of Russia, exclusive orientation to the West - will be on this path alone after its Western partners change their course or conduct it less Consistently, as they did before.

But in the event that the West, on the contrary, will go on escalating the confrontation with Moscow, Georgia risks becoming a loser. Active cooperation with NATO and the United States gives the Georgian authorities the conviction that they have received security guarantees from their partners, if not de jure, then de facto. It is pertinent to recall that it was precisely such a conviction of Mikhail Saakashvili and his entourage that became one of the factors of the August war.

The new monopoly

Consideration of the foreign policy of Georgia and Russian-Georgian relations should be preceded by an analysis of the domestic political situation in the country following the results of the parliamentary elections.

The party "Georgian Dream" unconditionally dominates in the Georgian politics. It does not need cooperation with other political forces in order to gain and retain power. The informal leader of the party, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has become a full-fledged "master of the country," and no one can question his leadership inside Georgia.

External players have no reason for serious bets on other players in Georgian politics. Another center of power, with which it would be necessary to negotiate, does not exist in the country. The split between the ruling "Georgian Dream" and the opposition forces, in the past parliamentary cadence constantly breaking through to international platforms and weakening the Georgian diplomacy (which is not too strong) is no longer relevant.

The peculiar and paradoxical result of three years of European integration, if counted events from the Vilnius EU summit in November 2013, when Georgia signed an association agreement with Brussels, is this: in the three countries that signed this agreement, in power, de jure or de facto there are rich or super-rich people. Ivanishvili was on par with Vladimir Plakhotniuk (chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova) and Petro Poroshenko (president of Ukraine).

It should be noted that in this community of "Euro-oligarchs" Ivanishvili still looks the most respectable. There is no evidence that he uses his political influence in Georgia for personal enrichment. On the other hand, neither Poroshenko nor Plahotniuc can boast of a constitutional majority in the parliament and in general the scale of political control used by Ivanishvili. The leader whose political abilities many doubted from the moment he announced the creation of the Georgian Dream Coalition turned out to be effective. Parliamentary elections in October 2016 proved this. In Georgia, the next, the fourth personalist regime was formed: Zviad Gamsakhurdia - Eduard Shevardnadze - Mikhail Saakashvili - Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The personal nature of the political regime in Georgia was strengthened by the election results, but it is not worth considering the government of Georgia as a simple puppet in the hands of Ivanishvili. Managing to keep prime minister position, Georgi Kvirikashvili during the election campaign proved to be a relatively strong player who has his own popularity resource and his own vision of the party's political course - naturally, within the limits that her informal leader designates. Unlike his predecessor Irakli Gharibashvili, the incumbent prime minister apparently understands the risks and responsibilities of public policy. Within a year from the moment he headed the government for the first time, Kvirikashvili managed to avoid corruption scandals that at one time made Garibashvili's inevitable resignation. He avoids petty conflicts over protocol issues with Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili, which Garibashvili constantly entered.

Margvelashvili himself practically did not show himself during the elections. If on the eve of the campaign there could be expectations that some new liberal and pro-American political force will emerge around the president or with his support, these expectations are completely dispelled. The narrowness of the president's constitutional powers leaves him practically unable to play an active role in Georgian politics. To claim this role, he could only against the backdrop of such a weak prime minister as Garibashvili. The appearance of a stronger figure at the head of the government did not leave the president even with modest political claims. Possessing a constitutional majority in the parliament, Ivanishvili initiated a new constitutional reform that would finally make the figure of the president symbolic.

The Unified National Movement (UNM), the party of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, was defeated in the elections with 27 seats out of 150 seats. Even in these conditions, UNM could hold the position of the second most influential political force. However, in January this year, the party split between supporters of former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and followers of former Secretary of the Security Council Gigi Bokeria and former Speaker David Bakradze.

Saakashvili insisted that the party boycott the elections, and pushed it to a street violent political struggle. His opponents preferred their parliamentary seats to an unclear perspective of sharp confrontation with the authorities. As a result of the split, under the control of Bakradze and Bokeria, a large part of the parliamentary faction (21 out of 27 deputies) was named "European Georgia", and under the control of Saakashvili - most of the party organization of the UNM and activists in the field. According to one of the versions expressed in Georgian political circles, the party to the split was prompted by Ivanishvili's promise to promote its preservation as the second most influential after the "Dream" in exchange for refusing to support Saakashvili.

At the same time, small pro-American parties were pushed out of the parliament - the Free Democrats and the Republican Party (who in 2012 went to parliament in a coalition with the Georgian Dream and were able to get a number of posts to the government). Indirectly this will contribute to strengthening the positions of "European Georgia" and UNM, since by choosing from ideologically close parties, voters will rather prefer the one that is represented in the parliament.

The defeat of the Republican Party clearly demonstrated the scale of its popularity among Georgian voters. The party, which claimed to be an intellectual leader in Georgian politics and managed to concentrate several key posts in its hands in 2012-2016, received only 1.55% of the vote (27.5 thousand voted for it).

However, in the parliament of Georgia, the representation was a political force, with skepticism related to the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration. The Alliance of Patriots, headed by David Tarkhan-Mouravi and Irma Inashvili, who gained just over 5% of the vote, is conservative, and opponents in the course of the elections declared this party "pro-Russian". Although the influence of the "Alliance of Patriots" in the parliament will be small, he received a parliamentary rostrum to advance his views. At the same time, he will be criticized by both the opposition and the ruling party, who will try to present him as a marginal political force. Having achieved success on emotional slogans that are emotional and close to conservative voters, the Alliance of Patriots should now expand its support base. The result of the elections for the Alliance is not so much a success as a challenge: will the party that is so small for a while be able to create a convincing opposition simultaneously to the Georgian Dream and the UNM?

The defeat of the "Democratic Movement" headed by Nino Burjanadze proved to be logical. Counting, probably, on the inertia of the past years - the party successfully performed at the presidential elections of 2013 and the municipal elections of 2014 - she very late started the campaign. Although she managed to find a pre-election slogan that aroused interest and discussion (Burjanadze urged to establish the non-aligned status of Georgia), there was practically no time left for his promotion. In addition, Burjanadze, unlike the "Alliance of Patriots", has not acquired its own media resources. This weakened her agitation and, perhaps, became one of the reasons for the failure in the elections.

Georgia's relations with the West

After winning the election, Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream have grounds to state their major domestic and foreign policy successes. Consolidation of power without the rigidity that accompanied this process under M. Saakashvili, progress in promoting the association with the European Union (the agreement with Georgia was ratified by all EU members at the end of 2015 in routine mode, without causing the difficulties that the ratification of the agreement with Ukraine), the intensification of military cooperation with the US and NATO against the backdrop of normalization of relations with Russia - perhaps the government under the formal and informal leadership of Ivanishvili in 2012-2016 proved to be the most successful for e time, the independence of Georgia.

The weak points of this government remained widespread doubts in the West (diligently warmed by opponents of "Dreams" inside the country) in insufficiently pro-Western convictions. Therefore, it is no coincidence that one of the first foreign policy steps of the country's leadership after the parliamentary elections and the formation of the government was a kind of "homage" to the United States. Not the most politically significant, but probably the most vivid manifestation of this is the article by Tedo Japaridze, an adviser to the Georgian Prime Minister on foreign policy, published by the American edition of the National Interest. Performed stamps, which is not typical of such an experienced diplomat and subtle analyst as Japaridze, the article is designed to prove to the American foreign policy community the absolute loyalty of Georgia to the Euro-Atlantic path.

From the same series - interview of Prime Minister Kvirikashvili to the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which the head of the Georgian government repeated that he "does not understand" why Russia opposes the expansion of NATO "not directed against it." In an interview, Kvirikashvili also stressed that Georgia intends to join NATO not to restore its power over Abkhazia and South Ossetia - in other words, is not going to draw the alliance into a confrontation over the two regions.

In recent years, Tbilisi has made significant strengthening of ties with the alliance in general and the US in particular. Under the rule of the Georgian Dream, Georgia has moved further in this direction than it was during the years of Saakashvili's rule.

Open joint NATO training center, Georgia joined forces with the NATO Response. Although participation in these forces is symbolic in scope (one company of the Georgian armed forces, with a total of 130 military personnel, is certified to participate in them), it is politically significant. The Rapid Reaction Force, created in 2002, involving four countries outside NATO. In 2008 they were joined by Finland and Sweden in 2014 - Ukraine, and in 2015 and Georgia. The Alliance considers the Rapid Reaction Force as part of its policy towards Russia: at the Welsh Summit (2015), it was decided to create the Very High Joint Task Force (VJTF) as one of the means to strengthen the Rapid Reaction Force. The new joint forces are designed to respond to the challenges that arise on the periphery of NATO; In essence, we are talking about the border of Russia and the alliance. Rapid response forces are used by the decision of the North Atlantic Council, in other words, the Georgian military personnel participating in this project actually go under the command of NATO.

Since 2015, military exercises in Georgia have intensified with the participation of NATO countries. In May 2015, for the first time, bilateral exercises of Georgia and the US Noble Partner were held, the purpose of which was to improve compatibility with the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. According to the statements of Georgian officials, the exercises were unprecedented in scope, 600 servicemen from both sides participated in them. These exercises are held annually, for which American armored vehicles, including tanks from Bulgaria and Romania, are being sent to Georgia. The annual exercises of Agile Spirit, formerly Georgian-American, have now passed under the auspices of NATO and have become multinational. It was publicly announced that the intensification of the exercises and the expansion of their members were the result of the decisions of the Welsh summit of NATO.

The US foreign policy community is also considering more radical options for using Georgia in the confrontation with Russia. Shortly before the NATO summit in Warsaw, the Atlantic Council published a report by retired high-ranking diplomat and military N. Burns and D. Jones "Restoring the Power and Will of NATO". This document proposed the creation of a NATO naval mission on the Black Sea by forces of Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, involving Georgia and Ukraine. True, this proposal was not reflected in the final declaration of the NATO summit in Warsaw, which was held in July 2016. It is probably difficult to involve Turkey in such a project, especially against the background of improving relations between Ankara and Moscow, and without Turkey it has no practical meaning due to the weakness of the fleets of Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Georgia. Nevertheless, the context in which Georgia was placed is indicative.

Strengthening Georgia's military cooperation with NATO and the US creates a new uncertainty in the Caucasus. On the one hand, the alliance does not assume responsibility for ensuring the security of Georgia, and the American military presence in this country (at least officially) is temporary. At the same time, NATO's involvement in cooperation with Georgia is large enough to consider it as a client of the bloc. Formally, Georgia does not give legal guarantees to NATO, but can the bloc refuse to defend it in an acute situation without risking losing prestige? The North Atlantic alliance can find itself in a situation where, without being obliged to guarantee the security of Georgia de jure, it will be forced to guarantee its de facto.

The bilateral Georgian-American military cooperation can have similar results. American armored vehicles, which are transferred to Georgia for the Noble Partner exercises, remain in the country for three to four weeks. It is not difficult to imagine the situation when she will stay in Georgia for a longer period. Although from the military point of view, the presence of several military equipment does not change the balance of forces in Transcaucasia, an uncertainty arises: what kind of US reaction should be expected if Georgia is involved in an armed conflict when American tanks and military personnel are on its territory?

Similar uncertainty arose on the eve of the August 2008 war, when the aggregate of political advances granted to Georgia by the US and NATO convinced the official Tbilisi that it had informal security guarantees from the West.

At the same time, it is necessary to emphasize the differences in the current situation from the one that developed in 2008. First, the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is reliably guaranteed by Russia. Secondly, the current Georgian leadership is not inclined to foreign policy adventures, especially armed. On the other hand, the level of relations between Russia and the United States, Russia and NATO at the moment is such that the parties can hardly remove the uncertainty that arises in Transcaucasia. The West is hardly interested in removing this uncertainty. In fact, Georgia is involved in the policy of deterring Russia, which the North Atlantic Alliance adopted against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis.

Georgia's relations with Russia

Having won parliamentary elections without coalition partners, the Georgian Dream lost its former freedom to maneuver in foreign policy rhetoric. In the parliamentary cadence of 2012-2016, its partners - small liberal parties - responded to the ruling coalition for being no less pro-Western than the opposition United National Movement. Their initiatives and statements allowed the coalition to show its loyalty to the United States (not giving the UNM a monopoly on such loyalty). At the same time, these statements and gestures did not seem to be the consolidated position of the entire "Georgian Dream" and therefore did not threaten to normalize relations with Russia. Moreover, as part of the ruling coalition there was also a directly opposite ideological pole.

Under the new conditions, the Georgian Dream will hardly be able to display such ideological breadth. In the coalition, such a spread of opinions can be tolerated, but within one party it indicates a deep schism. Perhaps, the leaders of the "Dream" proceed from the fact that their party won the elections by getting rid of extremes, that is, leaving the coalition with partners both in a pro-Western and anti-Western orientation. It is not yet clear whether this emphasis on "moderation" will become a source of strength for the ruling party, or whether it will be forced to gradually shift to one or the other pole. That is, to sacrifice the normalization of relations with Russia in order not to let their opponents from UNM become "the most pro-Western" or, on the contrary, to raise suspicions in Brussels and Washington by their "excessively mild" approach towards Moscow.

The most successful relations between Russia and Georgia in recent years have turned out to be in the trade and economic sphere. After a decline in 2015, Georgian exports to Russia continued to grow. Russia is one of the largest buyers of Georgian goods. Given that Georgia is experiencing a chronic trade deficit and needs to increase exports, this makes Russia an important economic partner for it. The deficit in trade with Russia is compensated by the revenues that Georgia receives thanks to tourists from Russia. In 2016, more than a million Russian citizens visited Georgia. Remittances from Russia remain significant for Georgia's macroeconomic stability.

The Georgian authorities as a whole are responsibly approaching trade issue with Russia. For example, they do not allow the re-export through Georgian territory of goods from countries for which Moscow imposed a trade embargo, well aware that attempts at such re-export would undermine bilateral trade. The parties effectively interact to prevent the supply of falsified products.

At the same time, economic cooperation between Russia and Georgia does not go beyond trade. The flow of Russian investment in Georgia is small, cooperation on major infrastructure projects is limited to the reconstruction of the border crossing in Upper Lars and interaction on technical issues of operation of the Inguri HPP and management of cross-border electricity flow.

The prospect of deepening Russian-Georgian economic ties exists. For example, Russian companies may be attracted to the modernization of the Georgian energy sector (especially in Russia some important knowledge and competencies remain). Russian investments in chronically under-invested agriculture in Georgia may be increased with the aim of replacing goods on the Russian market that previously came from the EU or Turkey.

However, the current state of political relations between the two countries does not allow such large-scale agreements. In addition, in conditions when the Georgian political class is formed on the basis of a kind of "outsourcing" (largely financed by American and European political funds, rather than internal sources), the trade and economic convergence between Russia and Georgia does not yield tangible political results. Georgian politicians (or at least a large part of them) are not the beneficiaries of this rapprochement. Expansion of economic cooperation is blocked by political disagreements and low interest of the Georgian political class in such cooperation.

For Moscow, the normalization of relations with Georgia has solved an important regional task, allowing to reduce tensions in this foreign policy direction. This made it easier for Russia to pass through the most acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis. The planned Georgian-Ukrainian cooperation was canceled in 2014 after a number of political posts in Ukraine were received by the representatives of Mikhail Saakashvili's team - first of all the former Georgian president himself, who for some time worked as the governor of Odessa.

Tbilisi rather cherished the fruits of warming with Moscow to actively get involved in the confrontation over Ukraine. The "toxicity" of Kiev as a foreign policy partner for Tbilisi is growing as attempts to reform and fight corruption in Ukraine fail. In such circumstances, Georgia prefers that in Brussels it is considered outside the Ukrainian context. It is likely that now the Georgian authorities will at least not force a rapprochement with Ukraine, even without regard to the possible consequences of such rapprochement for relations with Moscow. However, it can not be ruled out that the cooling of relations between Tbilisi and Kiev was primarily due to Saakashvili's appointment to a high office in Ukraine, and his resignation stimulates cooperation between the two countries.

The government of the Georgian Dream will not take any steps that take into account Russia's concerns in the political sphere or in the sphere of security. The former high level of control over the Georgian political course by the United States remains. Neither Ivanishvili nor Kvirikashvili, as far as one can judge, feel confident in the foreign policy sphere and would prefer to avoid any changes in this sphere, especially those that at least potentially threaten their relations with the West.

The quality of Georgian diplomacy is not high, the foreign policy department is focused on the usual formats of interaction with the EU and NATO, and not on conducting difficult negotiations on broader normalization of relations with Russia. The influential part of the Georgian political elite, following its Western allies, sees Russia as a country that is sloping towards the sunset, and does not see long-term prospects for political cooperation with it. For these reasons, there is no reason to expect Tbilisi to pursue a more active policy in the Russian direction.

Tbilisi values the achieved normalization of relations with Russia for two reasons. The first is in the mentioned economic advantages from trade and other economic cooperation with Russia. The second reason: easing tensions in relations with Moscow lifts restrictions on Georgia's military cooperation with NATO countries. Such restrictions would be unavoidable if the West regarded military cooperation with Georgia in the context of the threat of a possible armed clash with Russia.

It seems to the Georgian authorities realistic to maintain the achieved level of relations with Russia simultaneously with integration into NATO. Perhaps their statements that Georgia considers it possible to be a member of the North Atlantic alliance and continue to cooperate with Russia are not a propaganda cliche, but reflect their real (albeit erroneous) political calculation.

To date, Tbilisi has achieved the goals set in the normalization of relations with Moscow. Georgia has no incentive to develop this policy and at the same time fears that its development will be interpreted in the West as a departure from the Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Despite the repetition of the theses on the "occupation" of Georgian territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now at the bottom of the list of political priorities of official Tbilisi.

The Georgian government does not have a political strategy towards the two republics. The documents in this area do not have a clear goal-setting. Tbilisi excludes direct dialogue with Abkhazians and Ossetians, not recognizing the political subjectness behind them and their leaders. The humanitarian initiatives that Tbilisi is pushing towards the two republics (for example, the program of free medical care) are not accompanied by a broader political vision of a joint future.

According to the representatives of the Georgian authorities who participated in the development and implementation of the current policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia (primarily the former state minister for civil reconciliation and equality of Paata Zakareishvili), integration into Euro-Atlantic structures will make Georgia such an attractive development model that Abkhazians and the Ossetians themselves will want to return to its composition. At the same time, the Georgian political class still considers the conflicts not the root of the problem, not the reluctance of the majority of Abkhazians and Ossetians to live under the rule of Tbilisi, but the Russian recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This approach is reflected in the tactics of Georgian diplomacy about the two Republics.

Tbilisi's tactic is to persistently push forward the Georgian vision of the two conflicts on all available international platforms, even to the detriment of the substantive negotiations on humanitarian and security issues taking place in Geneva. As part of this tactic, Georgian diplomacy is seeking adoption of resolutions on the return of refugees who left Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the UN General Assembly. These resolutions are one-sided and politicized (they do not address, in particular, the fate of tens of thousands of ethnic Ossetians expelled from the interior of Georgia), because of them, for several years now, discussions on the fate of refugees at the Geneva discussions have been blocked. However, Georgian diplomats continue to submit draft resolutions to the General Assembly from year to year. The Georgian participants in the Geneva discussions disrupted the adoption of the agreed general declaration on the non-use of force, demanding that the document be long overdue to create some "international security mechanisms".

In addition, the Georgian side seeks to impose an approach in which the Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is declared the ultimate cause of all humanitarian problems in the region. An example of this is the media campaign on the demarcation of the border of South Ossetia with Georgia, deployed by Georgian politicians and the media and supported by Western media. In this campaign, the emphasis is on cases where the border passes through the land plots of Georgian peasants. At the same time it is ignored that Ossetian peasants suffered in a similar way. It is not mentioned that the Georgian side was offered to informally and unofficially agree the line of passage of the border in order to avoid such consequences, but this proposal was rejected.

Apparently, the Georgian side, realizing that it is impossible to persuade Russia to refuse recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, hopes to achieve that Moscow agrees that this recognition leads to a lot of inconvenience for both Russia and ordinary people on both sides of borders of two new independent states. The Georgian side seeks to present the recognition as an "absurdity", a "whim", an accidental anomaly of the Saakashvili era, and thereby increase its political price for Russia.

In this context, public rhetoric of Georgian officials and the expert community should be considered regarding the possible resumption of transit through the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the event of the entry into force of the Russian-Georgian agreement on the basic principles of customs administration and monitoring of trade in goods dated 9 November 2011.

Georgian representatives say that Georgia, in good faith, agrees to the opening of transit and expects that economic cooperation will promote the rapprochement of Georgians and breakaway territories, but this is hampered by Russia, which seeks to isolate Abkhazians and Ossetians from Georgia. Thus, Tbilisi represents the authorities of Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parties seeking to prevent direct contacts of people on both sides of former administrative borders.

In addition, the Georgian side publicly interprets the agreement as an instrument of "international control" over Russian trade with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, although, according to the document, all information on trade, with the exception of general statistics submitted to the WTO, should remain confidential. In Georgia, however, they do not comment on the fact that the agreement provides for customs processing of goods that come from Georgia to two republics, that is, they are supposed to be recognized as independent customs territories. (The position of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Agreement on the Basic Principles of the Mechanism for Customs Administration and Monitoring of Trade in Goods dated November 9, 2011 was published in the comment shortly after the signing of this agreement in the Foreign Ministry).

Ultimately, the humanitarian situation in the region is due not to the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia and not to the demarcation of their borders, but to attempts to spread Western military and political structures to the Caucasus. The former administrative borders of the Abkhaz ASSR and the South Ossetian Autonomous District have now become a line that divides Russia and its partners and NATO and its partners. The divergence on the question of how the European security system should be organized, which led to this split, has not been eliminated. And Georgia, choosing to integrate into NATO and have closer bilateral military cooperation with the US, also chooses to conduct this dividing line on the territory it considers its own. A sustained and long-term improvement of the humanitarian situation is impossible without broad and binding agreements on security issues in Europe.

The Georgian side ignores the publicly made proposal of Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin a direct dialogue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and this is completely in line with the approach of official Tbilisi to the problem of the status of the two republics. It seems that the government of Georgia sees its task not in negotiating with the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia about joint existence, but in maximizing and more profitable "selling" to the West their image of "a country that is offended by Russia."

Prospects for relations between Moscow and Tbilisi

Russia has benefited from the normalization of relations with Georgia. However, further development of this process is unlikely. Most likely, in the coming years, Russian-Georgian relations will be mothballed in their current state.

Possible shifts in relations between Russia and the West (for worse or better) will affect Russian-Georgian relations with delay. Georgia is not among the most notable points of the Russian-American agenda. If the normalization of relations between Moscow and Washington takes place, then its effect will affect Georgia only after the contradictions on more important issues such as Syria and Ukraine are resolved or weakened.

At the same time, if the new US administration chooses to continue the confrontation with Russia, Georgia, apparently, will not become a key element of this confrontation. Despite sharply deteriorating relations with Russia in 2014-2016, Washington did not attempt to undermine the Russian-Georgian normalization, although in fact it involved Georgia in its strategy of containing Russia. Let us emphasize that, due to its vulnerability, Georgia has limited value for the US as an instrument of pressure on Russia, and due to Washington's involvement in military cooperation with Tbilisi, it risks becoming involved in a direct confrontation with Russia in the South Caucasus in a critical situation, For themselves, given the Russian military preponderance in the Caucasus region.

If it is possible to normalize relations with the United States under the new administration, Russia is not interested in its relations with Georgia deteriorating to such an extent that they would become a weighty argument in Washington against the agreements with Moscow. At the same time, Russia has no reason to seek a significant improvement in relations with Tbilisi.

Taking into account all these circumstances, any steps to meet Georgia, made by the Russian leadership - with the possible exception of, perhaps, further simplifying the visa regime - will be perceived as a encouragement to continue ignoring the basic Russian security concerns. Moscow seems to have come to the conclusion that enough has been done to normalize relations with Georgia, and the development of this process is impossible without long-overdue political steps on the part of the partner.

The government of the Georgian Dream should make sure that the policy of gradual steps towards integration into NATO can not deceive the Russian leadership. This policy is regarded by Moscow as threatening and may have its costs. At the moment, official Tbilisi does not receive clear political signals on this issue, which creates the illusion that Russia is ready to tacitly accept the prospect of Georgia's membership in NATO.

There is no reason to expect any restrictions on trade and economic cooperation with Georgia. The experience of the 2006-2012 embargo showed that politically, such restrictive measures are useless and only worsen the attitude of ordinary Georgian citizens towards Russia. The current terms of trade with Georgia will be preserved - naturally, if they are observed by the Georgian side. However, any steps in economic cooperation, including in the infrastructure sphere, which go beyond simple trade regulations, appear to be possible only within the framework of a broader political dialogue.

Under the existing conditions, Russia can not reduce the intensity of Russian military exercises in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the level of security of both republics. Attempts to isolate them from Tbilisi, in particular, through the application of the law on the occupied territories, the need for their development are pushing them to deepen integration with Russia, including in the military sphere.

Although the government of the Georgian Dream is not interested in developing relations with Russia, it would be productive to publicly discuss what steps can be taken from the Russian side when and if the leadership of a neighboring country is ready for a political dialogue. A set of executable positive proposals is needed for Georgia, which observers are traditionally told to deficit in Tbilisi and Moscow.

Discussing hypothetical agreements between Russia and Georgia, international experts in the two countries state the impossibility of "exchanges": for example, Georgia will not abandon plans to join NATO, and Russia will not withdraw recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Apparently, this logic also influences the diplomatic approaches adopted in both countries. Political "exchange" of this kind is really impossible, because Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states can not become a subject of bargaining, not to mention that the issues touching on them can not be discussed without their participation. The subject of negotiations in the Moscow-Tbilisi pair can only be that which is in the power and competence of the Russian and Georgian leadership.

To discuss the prospects for a political dialogue, it is necessary, first, to "disaggregate" the discussed topics, offering small steps, and secondly, to identify in the existing node of contradictions those threads that are completely in the hands of Russia and Georgia, without affecting third parties. The prospects for achievable and quick-reaching agreements must be in the minds of both Georgian politicians and the Georgian society. Although the government of the Georgian Dream is unlikely to take advantage of these proposals (it previously rejected several initiatives from Moscow, put forward publicly at the highest level), their very existence will help strengthen the forces in Georgia that are oriented toward cooperation with Russia.

It should be stipulated that Georgia has a vast field for cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The potential of the Geneva discussions is far from exhausted. The dialogue on humanitarian issues is blocked artificially, solely for the reason that Georgian diplomacy finds itself unable to depart from the course of action adopted under Mikhail Saakashvili. It is in Geneva - but not within the framework of bilateral Russian-Georgian dialogue - that agreements can be reached on resolving humanitarian problems of residents of border areas, the conditions for crossing new borders and cross-border trade. It is likely that Russia can promote agreements between Georgia and Abkhazia on technical issues related to the operation of the Inguri hydroelectric power station, but it is important that this issue is not politicized by the parties. Moscow's proposal to facilitate a direct dialogue between Tbilisi and Abkhazia and South Ossetia was also on the agenda.

Let's name some directions of possible dialogue.

Russia will neither withdraw recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, nor renounce the security guarantees provided to them, but it can change the scale and nature of its military presence in the two republics. The number of Russian troops can theoretically be reduced, some types of weapons can be withdrawn. Such decisions, it seems, are possible in principle, if an agreement on the non-use of force is reached within the framework of the Geneva discussions. Russia has the right to expect that, in turn, Georgia will reduce the scale of its military cooperation with the US and NATO.

Moscow needs to intensify the discussion on regional cooperation formats as opposed to extra-regional (NATO and EU). A convenient platform here can be the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, which includes both Russia and Georgia. It would also be advisable to organize a dialogue - initially at the expert level - on security and economic cooperation in the Caucasus with the participation of the five states of Transcaucasia, Turkey and Iran. Multilateral and cooperative formats for ensuring regional security will be increasingly in demand as the attempt to build an "NATO-centered" security system in Europe becomes obvious.

Finally, it is necessary to support the currently in effect favorable treatment regime to attract Georgian representatives, primarily young people, to Russian programs of public diplomacy that are in effect for the post-Soviet space. The Georgian political class today does not show much interest in training specialists in Russia, but such specialists will need the country as the representatives of older generations leave active business and in the public service. For Russia it is preferable that this cohort of specialists be prepared with its direct participation.

The natural sense of confusion that is now felt by those representatives of the Georgian political class, which linked personal interests and the interests of their country with the prospect of its integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, should not lead to disorientation of Georgia as such. It is the era in which the great powers redefine their policy towards each other and are trying - quite chaotically - to formulate new principles of world politics, giving new and unexpected chances for small countries. As long as their powerful neighbors and partners are engaged in issues of a global world order, countries that are not so influential can offer their own agenda and their own vision of their future and future of their regions, unrelated to bloc division, ideological confrontation, ethnic conflicts and other negative elements of Soviet and post-Soviet legacies. The world is in a state of uncertainty, but happily avoids large-scale armed conflicts - this allows small countries to display political subjectness, which the former versions of the world order did not leave to them.

Translated by Manana BECHVAIA and Tatiana  SKHIRTLADZE.

Автор:  Nikolai Silaev

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