There is no alternative to reconciliation.
Relations with Russia did not develop as dramatically with any of the former partners in the USSR as with Georgia. And it's not just that Moscow and Tbilisi were at some point in a state of war. The atmosphere of bilateral relations is amazing. It is almost always saturated with strong emotions, filled with inadequate expectations, followed by unreasonable disappointments, replete with erroneous assessments leading to irrational actions or, on the contrary, inaction at crucial moments when something can be corrected.
A sober and truly objective analysis of the events of the 2008 of the year, when all the accumulated problems were detonated, is the lot of future generations of historians who can distance themselves from passions that involve immediate witnesses and participants. The task of scientists and politicians today is if they do not completely turn over the tragic page (the wounds inflicted by the wars do not heal so quickly), then they can dream that the folio called Russian-Georgian relations can be written further. The political changes in Georgia in the autumn of 2012 spurred interest in this, which - among other things - led to the emergence of this work. However, its preparation began long before the "political earthquake" of October 1, even when practically no one in Russia believed that power in Georgia could be replaced quickly and peacefully as a result of the will of the citizens. And the value of the report prepared by researchers from MGIMO (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Nikolay Silaev and Andrey Sushentsov is that the authors did not focus on the current situation.
They tried with the utmost scientific conscientiousness to understand what can be done to break the deadlock between the two peoples, who, despite the extremely difficult history interactions, always, and in the most difficult times, felt craving for each other. The gloomy period of the middle of 2000-s - the beginning of 2010-s showed once again that even in a hopeless political situation, sometimes on the verge of forging mutual hysteria, the desire for good-neighborly coexistence did not disappear, and it made its way as soon as there was a glimpse in the political sky change. If it is possible to talk about the benefits of the previous period, then it is precisely in this that the lowest point (and one can hardly imagine something worse than war) is over, and even after this there is an opportunity for the revival of normal ties.
The return will be long and difficult, the authors do not hide this and offer only the very first steps on a long journey. The two countries have objective contradictions, lack of prejudice and resentment. The asymmetry of approaches serves as a significant factor - Georgia, by definition, cannot take in the priority system of Russia the place that Russia occupies in the palette of Georgia’s interests. This is neither good nor bad, you just need to take such a position for granted. Finally, there is a question, the discussion of which, if possible, then only as a result of a very lengthy process of rapprochement - the status of territories that Russia recognizes as sovereign states, and Georgia considers them its provinces. The problem of sovereignty is generally the central issue of international relations; entire libraries of theoretical works and a smaller number of practical studies of specific cases have been written on this topic. If the situation has reached such an advanced stage, it is pointless to count on permission, especially sooner. On the other hand, history teaches - there are no conflicting circumstances that would not change sooner or later, opening up new opportunities - it was impossible to imagine them at the previous stage, but at some point they seemed almost taken for granted.
At the same time, we must not forget that in the modern world it is impossible to ignore the craving of peoples to have the right to determine their own political fate. This tendency is confirmed everywhere, and all governments have to reckon with it. Therefore, in whatever games big politicians and great powers play, the will of the peoples to live together or separately will be the decisive argument. This must be remembered by both Moscow and Tbilisi, aware that in the 21st century no one can impose anything, but you can be convinced if, of course, you make intellectual efforts and carry away your own example.
Partly, Russian-Georgian relations have fallen victim to a general aggravation in the world, when the previous norms and rules were rapidly eroded, and new ones did not appear. The reliance on force, the desire to expand its sphere of interests with a strong pressure is a product of the international atmosphere that emerged by the end of the 20th - the beginning of the 21st century. The shift of all ideological and legal landmarks was a consequence of the fact that with the end of the Cold War, the balance of world politics disappeared, and the attempt to establish a vertical hierarchical system under the leadership of a single superpower quickly failed.
Both Russia and Georgia, each in its own way and each with a large number of mistakes and mistakes, tried to find a place for themselves in the new system. And they did it until it became clear that there is no system, and the world is still in a state of transition - a stable model of a global device has long been in the past, but it is still not clear what the next one might look like. Institutes that even 10 years ago seemed to be pillars of the world order are in crisis. And for countries that have planned their future, based on the indispensable need to become part of these institutions, it is time to reassess their own prospects.
The famous sociologist Zygmunt Bauman described in a recent interview the modern world as an environment where change is the only constant and uncertainty is the only certainty. In this fluid and unpredictable environment, the only rational choice of any state can be only one - to strengthen its potential (political, economic, cultural, military) and try to minimize the number of problems, eliminate at least those that can be eliminated. Two countries that are close culturally and historically are obliged to do everything to get rid of the barriers that divide them - at least for the sake of joint survival. Moreover, for huge Russia this is, in fact, no less important than for small Georgia, with all the difference in caliber and status of the two countries. The work presented to your attention is a step in this direction.
Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs.
The purpose of this report is to compensate for the lack of objective information regarding the political situation in Georgia after the parliamentary elections of 2012 and the position of Russia on the problem of the normalization of Russian-Georgian relations.
Throughout 2012, scientists of the MGIMO (University) of the Russian Foreign Ministry N.Yu. Silaev and A.A. Susentsov conducted field research in Georgia and the regions of the Russian North Caucasus. The purpose of the research visits was to collect analytical material on the position of the Georgian authorities and social forces on the internal politics of Georgia and bilateral relations with Russia in the context of the Georgian electoral cycle 2012 of the year. In January and July 2012, A.A. Susentsov took part in two expert meetings between Russian and Georgian political scientists in Tbilisi. Within the framework of the Caucasus House project, a Russian-Georgian group of experts took part in meetings with representatives of the political leadership of Georgia and opposition politicians. During the research visits, Sushentsov held a number of conversations and interviews with independent experts, human rights defenders, scientists, representatives of the media and NGOs of Georgia.
In April and May, 2012, N.Yu. Silaev conducted a study on the topic "The Circassian Question": the national movement in modern Russia in the framework of a grant provided by the Institute of Social Engineering. The field research phase took place in the North Caucasus in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea, where the author conducted a series of in-depth interviews with representatives of Circassian national organizations. The work of the Russia-Georgia website: expert dialogue (www.georgiamonitor.org) and the expert network formed around this website and the Caucasus Cooperation non-commercial partnership played an important role in understanding current economic and political processes in Georgia.
Collected N.YU. Silaev and A.A. Susentsov made it possible to analyze a number of key problems in relations between Russia and Georgia, the main ones among which could be called:
- the impact of changes in the internal political situation in Georgia on the prospects for the normalization of bilateral relations,
- the potential for cooperation between Moscow, Tbilisi, Sukhum and Tskhinval on the economic, transport and humanitarian agenda,
- the results and prospects of the "new North Caucasian policy" of Georgia in the region,
- the potential of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration and its impact on regional security,
- prospects for trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Georgia.
In the autumn of 2012, the findings of the report were presented to the discussion of the expert community and representatives of political-forming circles of Russia. In October and November, a report was discussed at MGIMO (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia with the participation of experts from academic institutions and research NGOs, as well as specialists from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and other agencies directly involved in the development and implementation of the Russian foreign policy line in the Georgian direction.
The authors are grateful to the Rector of MGIMO (University) of the Russian Foreign Ministry Academician A.V. Torkunov for supporting research projects that resulted in this report. We thank our comrades and colleagues - employees of the Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security and the Department for Applied Analysis of International Problems of MGIMO (U). We are deeply grateful to colleagues - experts from government agencies, academic institutions and NGOs who took part in the discussion of the results of our study and made valuable comments and suggestions. This study could not have taken place without the participation of our Georgian colleagues and partners in Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea. We all share a common interest - the creation of conditions for the normalization of relations between Russia and Georgia.
GEORGIA AFTER ELECTIONS AND PROSPECTS OF RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN RELATIONS
1. Delayed normalization
For more than four years, political conditions matured for raising the question of the normalization of relations between Russia and Georgia, which were interrupted by the August conflict of 2008. What prevented the earlier reconciliation of the parties, the need for which was realized even during the conflict? We venture to suggest that this was due to several interrelated reasons.
From the Russian side, this, firstly, was a simple saving of resources. Building a modus operandi with the government of the United National Movement in Georgia required considerable efforts. Including: it was necessary to overcome the inertia that had accumulated since the "Rose Revolution", to find diplomatic formulations, channels of interaction, to reach certain agreements that the parties could follow.
However, the experience of relations with the government of Mikhail Saakashvili showed that it used instrumental contacts with Moscow in the context of relations with the US and the EU. What, then, was the prize for which efforts were to be made? The first and obvious solution would be to enter into some kind of framework a stream of hostile rhetoric exchanged between the press of the two countries. And Russia made the decision. Approximately two years after the 2008 conflict, positive and negative publications about Georgia were balanced, representatives of the Georgian leadership were able to speak from the pages of the largest Moscow newspapers (however, they hadn’t been denied this before), on-air TV channels about Georgia were silent, rather should be attributed to the plus. But no adequate response steps followed. We emphasize that in both the Russian and the Georgian cases it was not a question of an attempt on the freedom of the press, it meant only the cessation of targeted state propaganda. Secondly, in Moscow they really did not believe that it was possible to agree on something with Mikhail Saakashvili. Here he earned himself a solid reputation as a man who does not keep his words. The most striking, but not the only example of this is the shelling of Tskhinval on the night of 8 in August 2008 of the year, a few hours after the televised address of the President of Georgia, in which he announced a unilateral cease-fire.
Was there a guarantee that if in relations with Georgia Moscow tries to "start from scratch", this practice will not resume? Not to mention that such contradictory signals were coming from Georgia that it was almost impossible to isolate their common vector. Saakashvili made several statements that could be considered encouraging. He spoke in favor of a dialogue with Russia and from the rostrum of the European Parliament promised not to use force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But in the general context of the policy of the Georgian authorities, these statements did little to convince. After the call for dialogue, the Georgian president declared that Russia's only goal was to "swallow Georgia." The preparation of the “State Strategy for the Occupied Territories”, which envisages the expansion of contacts with the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was accompanied by the introduction of actual restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations in two republics.
Thirdly, in the situation of general uncertainty around Georgia, Russia did not want to cause the ghosts of the pre-August agenda in international politics in Europe and in the post-Soviet space with its own hands. After all, what was the reason for the sharp reaction of Moscow to the planned NATO exercises in Georgia in May 2009? Russia categorically did not want cooperation between Georgia and the alliance to continue as if there had been no conflict in August 2008, with all its grave history. For almost two years after the August conflict, the Georgian president was not accepted either in European capitals or in Washington. This was a clear sign of isolation - not Georgia, but its leader. Was it sensible on the part of Russia to help overcome this isolation? Circumstances rather pushed Moscow to a waiting position.
It would be a mistake to consider the Russian line towards the leadership of Georgia as the main and only obstacle to normalizing relations. Georgian policy also has system limitations for relieving tensions. Mikheil Saakashvili and his entourage remain an influential political force. The enmity with Russia is Saakashvili's topic, he feels confident in her, she in itself pushes him into leading positions. Building relationships with Moscow is something fundamentally different. This is exactly what the Georgian leader is doing the worst. The situation is complicated by the fact that Russian-Georgian relations are an acute issue of Georgian public policy. And public policy is an area in which the current president is able to provide support for his sometimes radical initiatives.
Over the past four years, much has changed in the world in general and in the post-Soviet space in particular. First of all, the conventional thesis about the hostility of Russia, which is allegedly incapable of building partnership and respectful relations with its neighbors, was refuted. Russia has improved its relations with most of its neighbors on its western borders. Border agreement with Norway, reaching agreements on the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline with Sweden and Finland, reconciliation with Poland, which in Russia is now regarded as one of the potential key partners in the EU along with Germany, France and Italy. The agreement with Ukraine on the extension of the stay of the naval base in Sevastopol, the prospects for increasing economic cooperation with Kiev, the refusal of the new leadership of Ukraine from plans to join NATO. To this must be added the raising of the level of relations with Azerbaijan to a strategic partnership, which makes it possible to ensure a balance in relations between Moscow and Baku and Yerevan and promote, if only in the humanitarian sphere, negotiations between the parties in the Karabakh conflict. Positive changes are noticeable even in the traditionally difficult relations of Russia with the Baltic countries.
For the prospects of Russian-Georgian relations, this means, above all, the lack of determination. Two countries are not doomed to continue the confrontation. The current situation has evolved over the years, and the normalization of relations between Moscow and Tbilisi has many obstacles that, from the position of today, are seen as insurmountable. However, there are resources to improve relationships. The contacts of the two societies have not ceased, political hostility has not affected human relations. The continuing gap is perceived on both sides of the Main Caucasus Range as an abnormal condition and subject to correction. The changing world presents such challenges and threats, against the background of which is something common that brings Russia together and Georgia may turn out to be more significant than what separates them.
The change in the political situation in Georgia in the autumn of 2012 brought the Georgian Dream opposition coalition to power. One of the priority objectives of the government of B. Ivanishvili proclaimed an audit of the Russian policy of the former leadership of the country. Our observations of the discussion of the prospects for Russian-Georgian relations in Moscow show that here the time of waiting is coming to an end. A window of opportunity opens up to normalize bilateral relations. In order for this process to become irreversible, painstaking analysis and inventory of the existing contradictions between the parties, selection of the priority ones and planning of the stages of future normalization is necessary.
2. Georgia after the election
In the parliamentary elections held on October 1 2012, the opposition coalition "Georgian Dream" led by entrepreneur Bidzina Ivanishvili won. The coalition won about 55% of the votes of the proportional system, almost 15 percentage points surpassing the result of the party "United National Movement", and won in most majority constituencies.
As a result of negotiations between the leadership of the Georgian Dream and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, B. Ivanishvili was proposed (and approved in this capacity by the Parliament), who received a blank check on the formation of the government. The term of presidential authority, M. Saakashvili, will soon expire, after the new presidential election, amendments to the Georgian Constitution come into effect, according to which the Prime Minister becomes the actual head of state (at the end of November 2012, Mr. B. Ivanishvili proposed to introduce these constitutional norms in the near future ).
The domestic political events in Georgia in October-December 2012 show that B. Ivanishvili’s team is capable of taking not only nominal, but also actual authority. The coming to power of the Georgian Dream coalition creates a new situation both in the internal politics of Georgia and in Russian-Georgian relations. Considering the high importance of the topic of relations with Russia in Georgian public policy on the eve and during the elections, these two spheres are closely interrelated.
Note the most important features of the current situation.
B. Ivanishvili received considerable credibility from Georgian voters. In the elections, he managed to consolidate the entire opposition electorate, which was not possible for his predecessors. He enjoys great personal popularity and owns inexhaustible financial resources throughout Georgia. This makes B. Ivanishvili the undisputed leader of the winning coalition.
At the same time, a certain weakness of B. Ivanishvili’s own team is noticeable. A number of key posts in the government and in the parliament were occupied by representatives of the Free Democrats party led by Irakli Alasania from the Republican Party. Both of these parties adhere to the accelerated westernization of Georgia and its Euro-Atlantic integration.
Certain discrepancies between voter expectations and the actual course of the new government cannot be ruled out. Note that the Republican Party, which largely gained control of the parliament, never won the elections on its own, outside coalitions, and in 2004, its representatives entered the parliament in a coalition with Mikhail Saakashvili. Republicans strongly condemned the authoritarianism of his government, but at the same time shared the strategic attitudes of the presidential party "United National Movement". Republicans, like many liberals in the post-Soviet space, are leaning toward harsh secularism, they have not very good relations with the Georgian Orthodox Church, and in this their position was also close to the president. At the same time, the “Georgian Dream” won the elections with unofficial but not too hidden approval from the Church. As far as can be judged, this circumstance has already led to a softening of the secularist rhetoric of the Republicans.
Surveys conducted in Georgia on the eve of the elections showed that the voters of the opposition coalition are not unanimous in their sympathies for NATO and do not approve of sending Georgian soldiers to Afghanistan (1). In particular, 32% of Georgian voters who were going to vote for the “Georgian Dream” rated NATO as an “aggressive military bloc.” 53% agreed with the statement that the interests of Georgia and the alliance do not coincide. 88% expressed the opinion that Georgia should not send its troops to Afghanistan. There is reason to think that this group of voters perceives B. Ivanishvili’s election rhetoric about continuing the course of rapprochement with NATO as a forced diplomatic gesture addressed to the United States and does not expect this course to be the basis of practical politics after winning the election.
On the one hand, there is the problem of non-representation in the Georgian public policy of that group of voters who doubt the country's integration into NATO is justified. On the other hand, the Georgian political elite is still convinced of the possibility for the country of Euro-Atlantic integration, modeled on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Baltic states. Even despite the fact that the experience of these countries in the current situation - the crisis in the European Union, the decline of US interest in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet space against the background of the Middle East destabilization - can hardly be considered replicable. The actual blocking of the discussion on other mechanisms for ensuring Georgia’s security and, in general, an alternative in the foreign policy strategy, while frustrations of the unreachability of the declared goals can already be felt, can destabilize the coalition.
The United National Movement, M. Saakashvili, although it lost the elections, secured a relatively strong position in parliament. A number of majoritarian deputies nominated for the elections to the UNM, went over to the side of the parliamentary majority, but the collapse of the opposition party and faction has not yet been observed. In the past two months, M. Saakashvili missed several strong blows related to the removal from office and the arrest of several of his associates. Apparently, he had no justification for replacing the American administration as a result of the presidential elections in the United States. However, the leaders of the regions appointed by him remain under the control of M. Saakashvili. Its influence on the judiciary remains. In the hands of the president were his main media assets. The government and the parliamentary majority of the “Georgian Dream” will have to act in the context of the ongoing confrontation with the opposition, at least until the presidential election. These elections themselves, given the presidential ambitions of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, can become a source of friction within the coalition and lead to a reformatting of the political alignment that emerged from the parliamentary elections.
The victory of B. Ivanishvili gave rise to high expectations in the society, connected both with the socio-economic development of the country and with the normalization of Russian-Georgian relations. In the current conditions, the Prime Minister will be forced to act with caution, trying to avoid the collapse of the coalition and strengthen the position of M. Saakashvili and the UNM. The unstable internal political situation in Georgia, in all likelihood, in the near future will not allow achieving a breakthrough either in the economic sphere or in foreign policy. The separate task of the new government and the parliamentary majority is to figure out how to cool the overheated expectations without depriving voters of hope, not losing their support and retaining the domestic and foreign policy initiative.
An important resource of the new government in its relations with Russia is its lack of negative experience in this area. The figure of Mikhail Saakashvili was an obstacle to the Russian-Georgian normalization, due to the fact that in Moscow the Georgian president earned himself a reputation as a person who does not keep his word. In addition, the positive changes in the Russian direction were unprofitable for him objectively: the president is good at quarreling with Moscow, but is bad at tolerating, and given the importance of the Russian theme for the Georgian audience, such changes would have pushed into the forefront in domestic policy those figures that more than Saakashvili, meet the tasks of reconciliation. For its part, Russia was in no hurry to put forward initiatives attractive to Georgia in bilateral relations, aware that in the reality that existed before the elections, such initiatives would only strengthen Saakashvili’s domestic political positions and, taking into account his lack of negotiability, would in fact go into the sand.
Another resource of the new government in relations with Russia can be described as a low start effect. Now bilateral relations are so bad that any shift for the better will be perceived as a significant success. Moreover, despite the high expectations, in Georgian society, in general, there is an understanding that it is impossible to quickly resolve contradictions. In Moscow, with restrained optimism, they are following the activities of Zurab Abashidze, who was appointed as the special representative of the prime minister for relations with Russia. In conjunction with the refusal of the new authorities of Georgia from the anti-Russian rhetoric adopted by the former authorities, this opens up new opportunities for dialogue, which at this stage does not require the parties to revise their basic attitudes or make concessions unacceptable for internal political reasons.
It is also important that as a result of the elections, the atmosphere has changed in which relations with Russia are being discussed in Georgia. Politicians and experts, representatives of the "third sector", defending the need to normalize relations with Russia, now do not risk being politically isolated or being branded as "Russian spies." The discussion of the prospects for Russian-Georgian relations can be conducted in a freer and non-biased way. Despite the clear objective difficulties that the new government of Georgia is facing and will still face, a window of opportunity has emerged in Russian-Georgian relations. This report is devoted to the analysis of these opportunities in various areas of bilateral relations.
3. South Ossetia and Abkhazia
No matter how the ultimate goals of the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts are determined and how to evaluate the process of such a settlement in the 1990 and 2000 years, the current relationship with Russia for Georgia means a negative dynamic in this central issue of Georgian politics. The status quo in Abkhazia and South Ossetia exists irrespective of its recognition or non-recognition by regional and extra-regional players, and the very passage of time strengthens it. The Abkhaz and South Ossetian issues cannot be resolved without Russia's participation, and from this point of view the lack of dialogue between Russia and Georgia also means the lack of prospects for a solution.
Russia does not consider its military intervention in South Ossetia in August 2008 an aggression, insisting that it carried out an operation to enforce the peace of the Georgian leadership. The report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the conflict in Georgia (Heidi Tagliavini’s mission) admits that the hostilities began with the shelling of Tskhinval by Georgian forces, although it considers the response of Russia (2) to be excessive.
Moscow also rejects the use of the term "occupation" in relation to the status quo in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, arguing that it does not exercise effective control over the territories of both republics. Note that the term "occupation" is not just incorrect from a legal point of view. Its use serves as a symbolic “cancellation” of the very fact of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts: there are supposedly no conflicts, but only an opposition between Russia and Georgia, and Russia “occupies” the territories belonging to Georgia. At the same time, the key issue of the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian disagreements remains the opinion in Tbilisi on Russia's leading role in these processes. Regardless of the assessment of the influence of Moscow, this perception leads away from a real understanding of the situation. Behind the brackets are both the need for a proactive political line of Georgia to resolve conflicts, as well as the interests of Ossetians and Abkhazians, whom Tbilisi denied the right to its own opinion under the pretext of “Russian occupation”.
The government’s discontent with M. Saakashvili was caused by the fact that the condition for securing the territorial integrity of Georgia was substantial concessions to Sukhum and Tskhinval, which were as difficult to go psychologically as to accept an equal format of negotiations with them. Against this background, the neutral position of Russia in the settlement process was interpreted in Tbilisi on the basis of distorted facts as anti-Georgian. Since 2004, in violation of international agreements, the government of M. Saakashvili has embarked on ousting Russia from the settlement process and reintegrating the de facto republics by force. Saakashvili’s foreign policy strategy was to translate the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflict into the mainstream of the Russian-Georgian conflict and then integrate the latter into the context of the confrontation between Russia and the United States, George W. Bush’s second presidential term. The tragic events of August 2008 demonstrated the fallacy and destructiveness of such a strategy.
Despite this, Moscow consistently supported the line on the territorial integrity of Georgia and, up to 2008, participated in the CIS sanctions regime against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian position on conflict resolution has remained unchanged throughout the entire period since the beginning of the 1990s. The President V.V. Putin during the escalation of the Georgian-Ossetian confrontation in 2004: “Russia, like other CIS countries, is ready to make its own contribution to the settlement and restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But we are not going to take on any functions that are unusual for us. And we are not going to act on one side. We want these conflicts to be settled in such a way that all the people who live in this territory make this decision themselves. And they agree among themselves. We are ready to play only the role of intermediaries and guarantor reached agreements that can be reached if there is goodwill "(3).
A serious obstacle to the convergence of positions is the idea of Russia's malicious intervention in Georgia’s affairs through the use of conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that has taken root in Georgian society since the beginning of the 1990s. Georgian analysts widely quoted political scientists K. Zatulin and A. Migranyan’s proposals for managing the post-Soviet space by manipulating conflicts on its territory (1997) allegedly prepared by the order of the Foreign Ministry of Russia in 4, but did not notice the Russian leadership’s refusing 20 years of adherence to territorial integrity principles and the inviolability of internationally recognized borders in the CIS space as the main condition for international security and cooperation.
Using the stereotypes that existed in Georgian society, the government of M. Saakashvili purposefully implanted a distorted view of the general history of Georgia and Russia based on the transfer of modern liberal democracy models to the past. The political line of Tbilisi, which was a consequence of the concept of “Russian occupation”, not only aggravated differences with Moscow, but also gave rise to a misunderstanding about the motives of the policies of Sukhum and Tskhinval. Removing from brackets the question of the Georgian leadership’s fault in the beginning of the 1990-s in unleashing conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Saakashvili government could not give a correct answer to the question of who, in the eyes of Sukhum and Tskhinval, is the main security threat and why they do not attractive idea of Euro-Atlantic integration.
The torpedoing of the political process in the framework of the settlement was accompanied by a widespread propaganda campaign aimed at Western consumers. The negotiation tactics of Georgian diplomacy in the management of the United National Movement was to introduce US or EU observers into the process and to use pressure from their side to force the partner to accept the conditions of Georgia. At the same time, the fact that the observation mission did not guarantee the deep involvement of Western states in the negotiation process hid from the attention of Tbilisi. Recognizing the correctness of Georgia in conflict with Russia, the EU countries, in fact, distanced themselves from the settlement problem, refusing to go further and seek concessions from Moscow. And although M. Saakashvili boasted of success, in reality it was a political defeat that reinforced the status quo. This alarming circumstance prompted opposition forces that came to power in Georgia in 2012 to attempt to revise the policies in the South Ossetian and Abkhaz areas.
It was realized that the ongoing obstruction from 2006 of the negotiation process with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the long run damages the interests of Georgia. Among the participants of the Georgian Dream coalition, the opinion has spread that if during 10 years Tbilisi does not offer Tskhinval and Sukhum a reasonable reintegration project, conditions will be created for the international community (primarily in the EU) to consider the issue of legalizing the status of Abkhazia as part of the Black Sea region. They also remembered that Russia's military presence in Georgia was perceived more or less painfully, depending on the state of bilateral relations. The topic of "occupation" did not rise until 2004, when Russian troops were in Sukhum, Tskhinval, Batumi and Akhalkalaki. A number of analysts directly began to blame the leadership of the United National Movement for missed opportunities for reconciliation, because on the eve of Georgia’s operation in South Ossetia in the summer of 2004, Tskhinval was in many ways ready to actually return to Tbilisi’s jurisdiction.
The load of stereotypes accumulated in the 1990-s, together with the active anti-Russian propaganda of M. Saakashvili's government, greatly influenced the assessments of the August 2008 events of the year. The leader of the Georgian Dream and the new Prime Minister of Georgia, B. Ivanishvili, explained the actions of Russia in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict by the strategic task of Moscow “to go through the Caucasus” (5). Even recognizing the government of M. Saakashvili as the initiator of the conflict, only a minority of the Georgian establishment was ready to hear the position of Russia formulated by D.A. Medvedev: "We are forced ... to recognize international legal personality [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] in order to protect them" (6). Nor was it discussed that Russia went for recognition only after its proposal was rejected to make international discussion of the security guarantees of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as one of the clauses of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities.
It is noteworthy that, in principle, Moscow does not exclude the possibility of raising the question of the unification of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (for example, in the form of a confederation), provided that it is the will of the citizens of all three states. A number of statements were made at that time by the post of President of Russia D.A. Medvedev can be seen in this context (7). In an interview with Russia Today, PIK TV, and Ekho Moskvy radio station in August 2011, Medvedev described a possible development of events as follows: “As for the future ... no one knows it. I will be very happy if, say, the leadership of Georgia, the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia sit down at the negotiating table and think about how they will live further, how peace and law and order will be ensured in the region, what is the fate of very close peoples, that they can potentially someday to create. It is their business. And if ever wow, i will be happy, Russia will never prevent it "(8).
Judging by the statements of the representatives of the “Georgian Dream”, the leadership of the movement recognizes the fact that the national-state projects in Abkhazia and South Ossetia rely on the real support of the Abkhaz and Ossetians and are not a misunderstanding caused by the mistakes of the past years, which are easily corrected if Georgia becomes democratic and prosperous (9).
The leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are also interested in normalizing relations with Tbilisi. First, the current state of relations between Russia and Georgia, Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia makes it difficult to create a solid legal basis for maintaining peace. Secondly, the Georgian population of Abkhazia, and especially South Ossetia, suffers because of the uncertainty of the legal status and strict border crossing regime, and this is one of the reasons for the difficulties in integrating the societies of two new independent states and forming stable democratic political regimes in them. Thirdly, in practical terms, both republics lose a lot from the fact that tensions and uncertainties in relations with Georgia impede the wide use of their transit potential.
There is reason to believe that the “small deeds” strategy is feasible even under the difficult conditions that exist, and its successful implementation will allow clearing the ground for discussing strategic policy decisions in the future. Only a few proposals can be put forward that might have made such a strategy more focused and would have facilitated its adoption by the parties to the conflict.
The concept of "occupation" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia adopted by the Georgian authorities leads to the fact that Tbilisi cannot recognize not only the legal (actually disputed) but also political subjectivity of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which they recognized until August 2008, because they did not of conflict resolution agreements. This position is weak in the sense that if Georgia embarked on a peaceful settlement of two conflicts, interaction with the forces that directly control the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is necessary and inevitable, and therefore recognition of their political subjectivity in one way or another is also required. form. The format of the Geneva talks on security in Transcaucasia does not imply the recognition by Georgia of the political subjectivity of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; According to Tbilisi, representatives of both republics participate in the negotiations as part of the Russian delegation.
It is necessary to isolate the discussion of humanitarian issues (such as the situation of the border population) from the political debate about the future of the region. The issue of the volume and quality of the Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which in principle is discussed in the context of the problem of a long-term normalization of the situation in the region, can hardly be raised in the current conditions. Combining it with humanitarian issues means putting an unnecessary diplomatic obstacle to resolving the latter.
The gradual "desekuritizatsiya" relations would raise the question of the resumption of socio-economic relations between the parties. An optimistic perspective could consist in the formation of a common space for the movement of people, goods, capital and services between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the direct participation of Russia, which should become a structure-forming part of this space. The Russian experience in Chechnya shows that even by restoring by force the constitutional order on a part of our own internationally recognized territory, it is impossible to avoid interaction with those who exercise power in this part of the territory; also have to deal with the long-term costs of such a "contract" (10).
In November, the new Georgian minister for reintegration, Paata Zakareishvili, launched an initiative to resume the rail link between Georgia and Abkhazia. This initiative met with doubts or objections in both Georgia and Abkhazia, and after that, according to the minister, was "removed from the agenda." It should be noted that despite the obstacles that the practical implementation of this plan will face, the resumption of the railway communication could give a new impetus to the positive processes in the whole of Transcaucasia, in which more than one state of the region is interested. Negotiations on the resumption of the rail link between Georgia and Abkhazia would be a new format of Georgian-Abkhaz interaction, unrelated to the legacy of the 2008 conflict of the year, as is the format of the Geneva talks. A political process of this kind would be no less significant than the result.
An important marker of changes in Georgia’s approach to the problem of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be the repeal of the Law on the Occupied Territories. A number of provisions of this law not only creates obstacles for the economic development of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also complicates humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Georgia. Legal regulation of the interaction of Georgian citizens and authorities with residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in our opinion, is possible under other legal acts that are not based on the counterproductive concept of "occupation."
4. Georgia's North Caucasus policy
The main role in promoting a positive image of Georgia in the North Caucasus was played not so much by the media resources of the Georgian authorities, as the abolition of visas and direct contacts with the leaders of North Caucasian national organizations. Theses on the successes of Georgia are conveyed to these leaders during their visits to Tbilisi and then distributed by them in the region through personal dating networks. Meaningfully, these theses are not new. They reproduce the same message, which seven or eight years ago was relevant in Moscow: "they won corruption, the police did not take bribes", "ministers - young guys with burning eyes", "put down thieves in law", "changed their country for the better in a matter of years, ”and so on. As before in Moscow, all these theses are perceived uncritically. The main result for the Georgian authorities is that among the North Caucasian intellectuals, the former indifferent and contemptuous attitude towards Georgia, which was formed during the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, was overcome.
The abolition of visas has affected the interests of several groups of the population of the North Caucasus according to social characteristics and size. Pilgrims heading for the hajj were able to save on travel expenses. Their appearance in Georgia is not yet accompanied by conflicts, however, according to some testimonies, the large number of pilgrims and their sometimes defiant behavior creates discontent among Georgian citizens. This group is completely indifferent to the propaganda of the Georgian authorities. Small wholesale traders received a cheap transport corridor for trips to Turkey, their experience of interacting with the Georgian police is very positive. The activists of the national movements in the person of Georgia have acquired a partner, relations with which, as they believe, allow them to raise the stakes in bargaining with the federal authorities.
Activists of the Circassian national organizations welcome the recognition by Georgia of the "Circassian genocide" during the Caucasian War. Those of them who are loyal to the authorities, at the same time stipulate that first Georgia should recognize the genocide of Abkhazians and Ossetians, however, it looks more like a nod to Moscow than a sincere position. The rhetoric of Circassian activists is bizarrely mixed with the rhetoric of Georgian foreign policy propaganda: “thanks to Georgia, the international community learned about our tragedy,” “the issue of genocide was raised at the international level” and so on. Both the opposition and loyal to the authorities Circassian national organizations view the Russian-Georgian confrontation as an opportunity to increase their political status and strengthen their media position through maneuvering between the two sides: "since Russia does not talk to us, we will talk with Georgia", "Moscow needs was to recognize the genocide earlier than Georgia did, Moscow missed its chance "," now Poland and the Baltic countries recognize the genocide. " Russia's tough, but emotionally restrained reaction to the recognition of the "Circassian genocide" by the Georgian parliament, as well as its categorical unwillingness to discuss this with y Circassian national organizations devalue this kind of argument.
For Circassian activists, the price of cooperation with Georgia is prohibitively high, as well as with the American Jamestown Foundation, which largely guides Tbilisi’s North Caucasian policy, if this cooperation goes beyond joint conferences and opening monuments. Attempts to obtain funding from abroad are often unsuccessful. Circassian national organizations, both loyal and oppositional, are funded from domestic sources, primarily regional authorities and Circassian entrepreneurs. There is no noticeable trace of the “Georgian money” among the North Caucasian national organizations. Among the Circassian ethnic activists, the attempts of the Tbilisi Circassian Culture Center to extend its activities to Chechens and Ingushes were received with discontent. These attempts were interpreted as the unification of the secular peaceful "Circassian" opposition with the Islamic and armed opposition.
The Circassian activists of Kabardino-Balkaria — namely, they became the main North Caucasian counterpart of the Georgian authorities in the campaign to recognize the “genocide” and the organization of the Circassian Culture Center — value their secular status. At the same time, the principles of the “new North Caucasian policy” - to create maximum inconvenience for Moscow in a sensitive area - push the Georgian authorities to a non-public alliance with Islamist groups in the North Caucasus. Evidence in favor of the existence of such an alliance in the past appeared in the Russian and Georgian press, and representatives of the Russian special services pointed to it. The most scandalous was the case with the destruction of the Islamist militant group in the Lopot gorge in August 2012, and it turned out that among the militants were citizens of Georgia.
This kind of alliance does not create critical threats to security in the North Caucasus. The recognition of the "Circassian genocide" by the Georgian parliament in Russia is perceived as an extremely unfriendly act. Such a policy, especially the uncertainty it maintains in Georgia’s position vis-à-vis the North Caucasus terrorist underground, complicates Russian-Georgian relations. Including because it makes one doubt both the responsibility of the Georgian political elite and its European and Christian identity. Improving Russian-Georgian relations is unlikely without clarifying Tbilisi’s approaches on this issue at the level of both political rhetoric and practical steps.
The lack of cooperation between the two countries towards ensuring stability in the North Caucasus over the years has been a negative factor. Ultimately, it was the absence of such cooperation that pushed Russia to initiate an expensive program to strengthen the border in the Caucasus. Moreover, the implementation of a number of elements of this program in a non-transparent mode for the Georgian side caused suspicions in Tbilisi against Moscow in Tbilisi. A number of Georgian experts, in particular, evaluated this program from the point of view of the possible transfer of Russian troops to the southern side of the Main Caucasus Range.
We note one more important circumstance from the point of view of Moscow. Russia realizes that ensuring effective state control over the entire territory of Georgia, with the exception of its former autonomies in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is the real achievement of modern Georgia. In the Shevardnadze era, the absence of such control was an obstacle to the cooperation of the two countries in the fight against terrorism and ensuring stability in the North Caucasus. The large-scale destabilization of Georgia can create a situation in which terrorist groups on the northern side of the ridge can use Georgian territory as a base, regardless of the opinion of the Georgian authorities on this matter. On the other hand, Moscow’s loss of control over the territory of the North Caucasus and its destabilization could significantly increase the range of threats that Georgia is currently facing. It should be noted that the total population of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia amounts to the total population of Georgia and shows rather rapid growth.
It seems that there are no obstacles for the new government of Georgia to dissociate itself from the support of terrorist groups in the North Caucasus. There are conditions for Moscow and Tbilisi to initiate the creation of a system for the exchange of information on the situation on the eastern part of the interstate border. This will not only enhance mutual security along this border, but also open the way for the emergence of the germs of trust between the security forces of the two countries.
As for the public side of Georgia’s “new North Caucasian policy,” with some success, it seems to have reached its natural limits. There are no prospects for enhancing cross-border economic cooperation within its framework. Students and young scientists from the North Caucasus used the opportunity of internships in Tbilisi provided by the Georgian authorities, but they connect their career prospects with their regions or with Moscow. Any massive influx of students from the North Caucasus into Georgian universities is unlikely. North Caucasian youths prefer to study at Russian or Western universities (except for its segment chosen by Arab universities), especially since the employment prospects in Russia are incomparably better than in Georgia.
The economic and humanitarian ties of Georgia with the regions of the North Caucasus can receive a new positive impulse if they are carried out not in spite of Moscow and not bypassing it, but in cooperation with it. There is an objective need to create such formats of regional interaction in which intellectuals, civil society activists, journalists of Moscow, Tbilisi, the regions of the North Caucasus and the South of Russia would be involved. This is consistent with the historical traditions of the region, and the need for knowledge about each other, which is felt on both sides of the Main Caucasus Range. In the future, we can discuss the mechanisms of regional economic integration with the prospect of creating a common space for the movement of people and goods, security, education and culture.
5. NATO and regional security
During the 9 years in power, the government of M. Saakashvili conducted a radical modernization experiment in Georgia based on a libertarian understanding of the role of the state in the country's economy. At the same time, the participation of the state in organizing the life of society has increased many times over. Striving for a profound transformation of the foundations of the state and society of Georgia, the United National Movement sought to create conditions in which their power would not be challenged by the opposition. To accomplish this task, the Georgian elite chose a strategy of "discarding the Soviet legacy". The slogan “anything but Russia” found support among the educated population of large cities and for a certain time became a symbol of state policy with a neutral reaction from the rural population. The exhaustion of the resource of international support for the Saakashvili regime, coupled with the growing discontent of the broad masses of the population with a stagnant level of income, stimulates the process of revising the key idea of the last 8 years of the political life of Georgia.
The specifics of the modernization experiment M. Saakashvili was in complete subordination to the president of all branches of government. According to the opinion spread among Georgian analysts, after the “revolution of roses”, “authoritarian modernization” took place in Georgia.
During the reign of Saakashvili, libertarian motives in the country's economic policy were combined with tight executive control over initiatives in the social and cultural life of Georgia. The sociocultural experiment to educate the next generation of Georgians as “free,” that is, carriers of Western values and anti-Russian convictions, prompted the government to carry out a large-scale anti-Russian campaign. The consolidation of a part of society around Western values was promoted by the ingrained perception of the anti-Georgian character of Russia's involvement in the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Therefore, the conviction that "Georgia was lucky with external enemies" was widespread among supporters of the United National Movement.
The problem of the sociocultural experiment was the geographical neighborhood of Georgia with Turkey. On the one hand, the two countries were divided by the centuries-old military-political and ethno-confessional confrontation, which is still felt at the household level. Historically, this confrontation was not in favor of Georgia and at times it threatened the existence of the Georgian people. On the other hand, it was Turkey that was guided by the goals of Euro-Atlantic integration close to Tbilisi, and since 1952 has been a member of NATO. The UNM Government took into account the anti-Turkish sentiments common in the society and sought to circumvent them. Therefore, in propagating Euro-Atlantic integration, the geographical context of security threats was replaced - propaganda artificially placed Georgia among the states of Central and Eastern Europe, which in the last 20 years united a common political trajectory (from the Warsaw Treaty Organization to NATO) and a common perception of security threats allegedly coming from Russia . Behind the brackets it turned out that the CEE countries were involved in the Atlantic integration of neighboring Germany, while Georgia was to go this way with the mediation of its southern neighbor, Turkey. Apparently, this fate, as well as the deep socio-economic integration accompanying allied relations, was aimed at avoiding both Georgian society and the political establishment.
A notable feature of the UNM government was its deliberate break with the tradition of state power in Georgia and in the Caucasus as a whole. In the cabinet there were no officials older than President Saakashvili. Most of the members of the government were socialized in the context of Western values - their studies or a significant part of their professional biographies took place abroad. They opposed traditional pragmatism and focus on results to traditional Georgian contemplation. High elite self-esteem around Saakashvili was based on ideological solidarity and high team spirit. The activists of the “United National Movement” did not hesitate to boast that their government was “compact, mobile and in some matters very skilful”. One of the key places in the government structure of the United National Movement was occupied by the ministry for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. In fact, this department was engaged in the adaptation of state reform standards modeled on the American liberal democracy for Georgia. It is also responsible for the implementation of the “homework” received from the mentors. It was this agency that often misled the West, creating the appearance of success on the path of Georgia to democracy.
A tool in this sense was the possession of the government by political initiative in domestic policy and dominance in the information space. According to statistics, about 80% of Georgians received information through TV, while all three main TV channels were controlled by the government. A massive propaganda campaign based on semi-truthful information formed a high rating of public support for Georgia’s membership in NATO, but did not give a solid understanding of the meaning and purpose of this process. According to opposition politicians, the government of Saakashvili has created a “virtual Georgia” in the minds of citizens. As the events of September 2012 around the Gldani Prison showed, such an inadequate picture of reality leads to high self-esteem, high expectations of society from the authorities and strong fluctuations in public sentiment related to the inability of the authorities to meet these expectations.
The inadequate assessment of the state of the external environment and the resources available for the implementation of foreign policy goals put Georgian diplomacy at a standstill. During the UNM, Georgia essentially had no distinguishable strategic objectives with the exception of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. It is noticeable that the institutional state structure of Georgia is deployed in the direction of the West: the Georgian Foreign Ministry does not have a department for relations with Russia, which is “dissolved” in the department for CIS affairs. With a verbal readiness to restore diplomatic relations with Russia, the UNM leadership did not understand how to achieve this. Building on the thesis that “contradictory signals are coming from Russia,” the government came to the paradoxical conclusion that “in order to streamline relations with Russia, joining NATO is required.”
Against the background of failures in the Russian direction, the main declared goal of Georgia’s policy in the administration of the UNM remained the "democratic mission" in the Caucasus and in the CIS as a whole. Thus, the strategic partnership with Azerbaijan at the Georgian Foreign Ministry was linked to the fact that in the West they allegedly perceived Baku in the “one project” with Tbilisi. Thus, the outcome of the Euro-Atlantic process for Georgia, according to Tbilisi’s plan, could be transferred to Azerbaijan in the future. This line did not take into account not only the desire of Azerbaijan to maintain neutrality, but also the fact that Georgia itself could well be the object of a “democratic mission” on the part of Turkey. Apparently, it was in the “one package” with Turkey that the Euro-Atlantic integration of Tbilisi in Brussels was considered.
In essence, Georgian diplomacy during the administration of the United National Movement was losing the main skill - the ability to negotiate, limited to the roles of a petitioner or a wronged person. The high dependence of Georgian diplomacy assessments on the opinions of Western partners made the political line of the government shaky. The UNM appreciated the ease of the diplomatic process with Brussels, which did not oblige Tbilisi to make concessions than the tense Russian-Georgian, Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian negotiations filled with real content. Especially painful in the UNM reacted to inattention from the West or direct criticism of the Georgian authorities. The steady decline in international support for the political course of the government of M. Saakashvili took place against the background of a decrease in the volume of international financial assistance. For the months of 22 after the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict of 2008, President M. Saakashvili was not accepted by the leaders of the European states. Many politicians in the West have realized that the UNT regime played a disservice to Georgia (11) for the UNM government. There were also suspicions about the sincerity of Saakashvili’s initiatives in the field of democratization, military construction and regional policy. Of particular concern in Brussels was the fact that the short-sighted actions of the M. Saakashvili government in August 2008 could lead to a full-scale military clash between NATO and Russia. In aggregate, this contributed to lowering the priority of the “Georgian dossier” among politico-forming circles in Brussels.
Recognizing that the contradictions on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and on Georgia’s membership in NATO are currently unsolvable, we will nevertheless cite several theses designed to broaden the perspective of discussion on these issues. The point is not that Russia opposes the rapprochement of Georgia with the European Union. Moscow did express some concerns in connection with the implementation of the Eastern Partnership program, but these concerns were related to those elements of the program that do not agree well with the existing formats of international cooperation in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, in which Russia is involved (BSEC, Russia and Belarus). Russia's initially cautious reaction to the Eastern Partnership initiative soon changed to neutral.
"Geopolitical pluralism" in the post-Soviet space, including the Caucasus, has become a reality, due to the independence of the former Soviet republics. Georgia, like many other countries of the former Soviet Union, considers the West as a source of modernization trends, investments and technologies. In this vein, it considers the West and Russia itself, with the difference that it does not harbor any illusions that external factors can have any significant influence on the process of its own socio-political modernization - simply because of its size, military-political relics and historical traditions. Here it is appropriate to recall that the socialization of Georgia in the modern European context historically took place by borrowing from Russia. For Moscow two important principles are important. First, so that the “European” or “Western” choice of Georgia does not automatically become an anti-Russian choice. That is, the principle of "geopolitical pluralism" extended to Russia too. Meanwhile, since the end of 1980, the Georgian foreign policy has been conceptually based on the West-Russia opposition. Secondly, that the "European" or "Western" choice does not assume an automatic choice in favor of the proliferation of NATO’s military infrastructure down to the Russian borders.
Identification of the “western” choice with the anti-Russian one pushed the former ruling elite of Georgia to build its foreign policy strategy based on the scenario in which Russia's foreign policy influence at least will not grow, but as the maximum begins to weaken. Obviously, this scenario is not implemented. The emphasis on the weakening of Russia makes the success of the Georgian strategy critically dependent on such factors that are beyond the influence of Tbilisi. Finally, this rate is preventing Georgia from taking advantage of the advantages that the growth of the Russian economy gives its neighbors and which are used by business groups from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
The radicalism of the state experiment of the “United National Movement” on “Europeanization” objectively weakened the feeling of regional identity and Caucasian community among Georgians, making Georgia alien for Caucasian states. This was of particular importance for the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian relations. The result of the "Atlantic" rhetoric of Tbilisi was the firm conviction of Tskhinval and Sukhum that the EU and NATO condoned the aggressive plans of the government of M. Saakashvili. This has complicated the task of Georgia’s entry into NATO in the pre-war borders on many occasions, subject to the consent of the entire population, which Tbilisi considers its own.
Against this background, in the North Atlantic Alliance itself, it is not yet seriously asked how to integrate Georgia into its membership. The bloc is experiencing an internal crisis associated with frustration in assessing goals for member states. The prospect of applying Article 5 of NATO’s collective defense statute against Russia precludes Georgia from joining the bloc with the existing status quo. Without rejecting the prospect of Georgia’s integration in principle, Brussels does not make significant efforts to create favorable conditions for this, expecting that they will be created in the future. For the time being, Tbilisi is proposing to develop operational cooperation with regional NATO members, primarily with Turkey, which in recent years has been striving to strengthen its military-political influence in the region, primarily in the belt of its borders.
Under these conditions, it would be unwise for Tbilisi to link the fate of the state with interaction exclusively with NATO. Against this background, the only state that can adequately respond to long-term threats to Georgia’s security and thereby stifle the “sense of homelessness” that still exists in Tbilisi before its Islamic neighboring countries remains objectively Russia.
Understanding that in the current situation - the absence of diplomatic relations, contradictions on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - and the current level of mutual trust, the rapprochement between Russia and Georgia on the basis of common approaches to the problem of regional security is unlikely, we still call for intensified discussion of this problem on expert level A positive role could be played by a permanent Russian-Georgian expert workshop on a joint analysis of the challenges and threats arising in the North and South Caucasus, in Central Asia and in the Middle East.
6. Trade and economic cooperation
The economic model created by Mikhail Saakashvili did not allow Georgia to overcome poverty, but it did have a certain stability. Large foreign debt does not threaten the stability of the country, as it can be restructured for political reasons. For Georgian donors, such a restructuring will be invisible amid difficulties with Greece and other problematic countries in the eurozone. The long-term negative trade balance of Georgia is compensated by remittances sent to Georgian migrants. Tight control over the state apparatus and the borders of the country provide the Georgian elite with steady incomes through import operations. The monopolization of the markets for imported goods makes it possible to maintain a high yield of these operations (12). In fact, the Georgian ruling elite extracted rent in the role of a "sovereign intermediary" between labor migrants and consumers of imported goods within the country. The economic mechanisms of its existence were to a small extent related to domestic production.
However, the economy of Georgia, despite the formally relatively high rates of economic growth, is essentially stagnant. The unemployment rate in the country is higher than that of its neighbors in the region - Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia is in third place in the region in per capita GDP, overtaking Armenia last year only due to the dynamics of exchange rates. Domestic production is weakening due to the underinvestment and dominance of the interests of importers.
The gap in values between the elite and the broad strata of the urban and rural population exacerbated the opposition of the urban elites. 55% of the country's population employed in agriculture are not beneficiaries of the government’s economic policies. The beneficiaries of economic reforms were the trade, finance and, to a lesser extent, services sectors. The recovery of the tourism sector is noticeable after large-scale public investments in infrastructure. However, the main flow of tourists goes to Georgia from relatively poor Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran; it is unlikely that tourism alone will ensure the prosperity of 4,5 million Georgia's residents.
The problems of unemployment and poverty against the background of declining availability of medicine and the growth of tariffs for electricity and housing and communal services became one of the reasons for the defeat of the “United National Movement” in parliamentary elections. Overcoming economic hardship is crucial for the new government. Continuing economic stagnation will threaten the preservation of the “Georgian Dream” in power.
However, the sources of the future economic breakthrough are not clear. 4,5 billion dollars allocated to Georgia by the Brussels Donors Conference, spent. Inflow of investments from abroad is insignificant. The future of the Georgian economy depends on whether it is possible to discover new markets and new sources of investment outside the country. Expanding trade and economic ties with Russia would mean a triple win for the Georgian Dream. First, it will provide an opportunity to return Georgian products to the traditional market. This will support agriculture and a number of sectors of the country's food industry, which will lead to an improvement in the overall economic situation. Secondly, Russia can become a source of investment in the underinvested traditional sectors of the Georgian economy, and these investments will be accompanied by actual guarantees of the availability of Russian markets in the future - Russia will have interest groups focused on preserving and developing what has been achieved in trade and economic cooperation. Third, groups interested in cooperation with Russia will be strengthened in the Georgian business elite. In the past, the weakness of such groups was one of the factors behind the instability of Russian-Georgian relations. In domestic politics, these groups will be focused on the “Georgian Dream” as a force capable, at least, not to worsen relations between Tbilisi and Moscow. We also note that easing the visa regime with Georgia will open up the Russian labor market for Georgian citizens. In the short term, this will partially alleviate the problem of employment in the country.
Judging by the statements of Russian officials, whose authority is to open access for Georgian goods to the Russian market, Moscow is ready to take the necessary decisions to ensure this access. At the same time, the considerations of political tactics associated with this process are understandable. In Russia, they are aware that the Georgian politician, with whose name the return of goods from Georgia to the Russian market will be associated, will acquire considerable domestic political capital, and would prefer that this capital be invested in the further development of Russian-Georgian relations. Moscow would also like to avoid its decisions indirectly contributing to the strengthening of the economic positions of those Georgian business groups that are oriented towards the former leadership of the country. At the same time, she is counting on practical steps to establish bilateral relations on the part of the Georgian authorities, which will be taken simultaneously with the opening of the market.
Probably, in the coming months, we can expect a metered - as far as technical issues are being resolved - the opening of the Russian market for the products of Georgian companies. To speed up this process from the Georgian side, an authorized entity is needed who is able to take on all the stages of negotiations, both political and technical. In addition to the special representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia for Russia, efforts may be required through the trade and industry associations of the two countries or the creation of a special organization of exporters in Georgia. It should be noted that "commercial and industrial diplomacy" in the future may become a channel of semi-official political dialogue between the two countries, along with the official channel provided by Switzerland.
7. Humanitarian cooperation
The ongoing political conflict between neighboring countries impedes human relations rooted on both sides of the Main Caucasian Ridge. The current situation is detrimental to cooperation between Russia and Georgia, whose societies are still deeply interconnected. About a quarter of Georgian residents have relatives in Russia. 78% Georgians speak Russian and 97% want their children to speak it fluently (13). Mixed marriages with Russians approve of 41% Georgians, which is twice the level of approval of mixed marriages with the Turks or Americans (14). According to public opinion polls of recent years, about 80% of Georgians are in favor of improving relations with Russia and a comparable number of Russians - for the normalization of relations with Georgia.
In conditions when personal contacts of citizens are limited, the information policy of the media is crucial for the formation of mutual perception. Russian officials have repeatedly spoken negatively about M. Saakashvili, but refrained from making statements that could be interpreted as anti-Georgian. In the past two years, the refusal of state-run and state-affiliated media media to notice harsh statements about Georgia has been noticeable. Representatives of the Georgian authorities are given the opportunity to express their position in leading Russian publications. The liberal-minded part of the Russian expert and media community sympathizes with economic reforms in Georgia and openly expresses these sympathies, which have become a sign of the Fronde. Paradoxically, most influential Russian media outlets write about Georgia “good or nothing”, despite the depressing state of interstate relations. Publications on the situation of ethnic minorities in Georgia have practically disappeared from public space, as well as calls for artificially destabilizing the situation in the country, which, however, even in the autumn of 2008, were publicly promoted only by representatives of marginal political groups.
However, a similar shift in the Georgian information space has not happened until recently. Efforts to organize a dialogue between representatives of the media and expert communities of the two countries were often blocked by the Georgian authorities (15). The broadcasting organization of the First Information Caucasus Channel (PIK) in Russia is viewed as an attempt to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus. Such informational and broader - the public environment does not contribute to activities aimed at the prospect of the normalization of bilateral relations. Note that the closure of the PIK - whatever the reasons for such a decision - was received in Russia with satisfaction.
The restrictive measures of the government of the Russian Federation covered wide sections of Georgian society (the closure of Russian labor and agricultural markets, the introduction of a visa regime). At this stage, the anti-Russian convictions in Georgia have not become irreversible, even among the liberal part of society, but the prospect of this process cannot be underestimated.
The great potential for improving bilateral relations is in the interaction of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches. Patriarch Kirill and Catholicos Patriarch Elijah II are the most consistent advocates of reconciliation. And although the high authority of the church in the societies of the two countries is not translated into social dynamics, even symbolic gestures in this direction (for example, the participation of the Georgian church choir in the Easter service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior) cause a wave of prolonged approval.
Georgian citizens face significant difficulties in obtaining Russian visas. Due to the low capacity of the section of Russian interests at the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi, the process of obtaining a visa is extremely difficult. The cost of the visa is high, an invitation from a Russian citizen or organization is required. These restrictions are obviously redundant, and in terms of preventing potential threats to Russia's security, it seems not to be very effective. However, they cause irritation in Georgia and prevent the continuation and expansion of human and business contacts between the residents of the two countries.
Getting a visa becomes an insurmountable obstacle when making tourist trips to Russia. According to our observations, traveling Tbilisi youth 6 times more often in Europe and the United States than in Russia. This leaves young people unarmed before official propaganda of the UNM government, which deliberately distorts information about the situation in the Russian Federation. Visa regimes between countries should be greatly facilitated for students, intellectuals, clergy, tourists.
At the same time, both parties should be aware that the practice of international relations in most cases does not imply a visa-free regime in the absence of diplomatic relations. Receiving education in Russia should again become one of the real opportunities for Georgian applicants. Georgian youth are sent to study in Europe and the United States, often without a Russian alternative. At the same time, the Russian education market continues to be in demand among Georgians. The simplification of the visa regime for students and the holding of an educational exhibition in Tbilisi can keep a sharp drop in interest in Russia among Georgian youth. The maximum program would be the opening in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and other cities of the Russian Culture Centers, as well as the symmetrical opening of the Georgian Culture Centers in Moscow and the largest cities of Russia (16).
A significant problem remains the weakness of Russian studies in Georgia and Georgian in Russia. In practice, this hinders the qualitative analysis of the neighbor’s policy and contributes to the dissemination of false notions. The impossibility of visiting Russia for Georgian researchers is becoming a prohibitive barrier to entering the profession. It is necessary not only to significantly facilitate scientific and educational contacts of the two countries, but also to give them an impetus by distributing research grants through authorized organizations according to a transparent procedure. The research program launched on the basis of such grants will have a positive side effect in the form of expanding practical knowledge about the economic and political situation in Russia and Georgia, which are important from the point of view of planning and conducting foreign policy.
Russia and Georgia are not doomed to continue the confrontation. The continuing gap is perceived on both sides of the Main Caucasus Range as an abnormal condition and subject to correction. The government of B. Ivanishvili that came to power in Georgia one of the priority goals proclaimed an audit of the Russian policy of the former leadership of the country. Observations on the discussion of the prospects for Russian-Georgian relations in Moscow show that here the waiting time is coming to an end. A window of opportunity opens up to normalize bilateral relations.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia
The ongoing obstruction of the negotiation process with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 2006 in the long run damages the interests of Georgia. The course towards the peaceful settlement of the two conflicts requires Tbilisi to recognize the two republics as independent dialogue partners, which they recognized until August 2008.
At the first stage of normalization of relations, it is reasonable to isolate the discussion of humanitarian issues from political discussion about the future of the region. The issue of the volume and quality of the Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which in principle is discussed in the context of the problem of a long-term normalization of the situation in the region, can hardly be raised in the current conditions.
The resumption of socio-economic relations between the parties may consist in the formation of a common space for the movement of people, goods, capital and services between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the direct participation of Russia, which should become a structure-forming part of this space. The initiative to resume the railway communication between Georgia and Abkhazia met with objections or doubts both in Tbilisi and Sukhum and was removed from the agenda. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles that the practical implementation of this plan will face, the resumption of the railway communication could give a new impetus to the positive processes in all of Transcaucasia, in which more than one state in the region is interested. We believe that this topic needs discussion, if not at the political, then at the expert level.
An important marker of changes in Georgia’s approach to the problem of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be the repeal of the Law on the Occupied Territories. A number of provisions of this law not only create obstacles for the economic development of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also impede humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Georgia. Legal regulation of the interaction of Georgian citizens and authorities with residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in our opinion, is possible under other legal acts that are not based on the counterproductive concept of "occupation."
Georgia's North Caucasus policy
The recognition of the "genocide of Circassians" by the Georgian parliament in Russia is perceived as an extremely unfriendly act. Such a policy, especially the uncertainty it maintains in Georgia’s position vis-à-vis the North Caucasus terrorist underground, complicates Russian-Georgian relations. There are no obstacles to the new government of Georgia dissociating itself from the support of terrorist groups in the North Caucasus. There are conditions for Moscow and Tbilisi to initiate the creation of a system for the exchange of information on the situation on the eastern part of the interstate border.
Georgia’s economic and humanitarian ties with the regions of the North Caucasus can receive a positive impulse if they are not carried out in Moscow and not bypassing it, but in cooperation with it. There is an objective need to create such formats of regional interaction in which intellectuals, civil society activists, journalists of Moscow, Tbilisi, the regions of the North Caucasus and the South of Russia would be involved.
NATO and regional security
The point is not that Russia opposes the rapprochement of Georgia with the European Union. For Moscow, it is important that the “European” or “Western” choice of Georgia does not automatically become an anti-Russian choice and does not assume the spread of NATO military infrastructure right up to the Russian borders.
The emphasis on the weakening of Russia makes the success of the Georgian strategy critically dependent on such factors that are beyond the influence of Tbilisi. In addition, this rate prevents Georgia from taking advantage of the advantages that the growth of the Russian economy gives to its neighbors and which are used by business groups from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Moscow calls on official Tbilisi not to block the discussion on other mechanisms for ensuring Georgia’s security other than NATO and, in general, on an alternative in the foreign policy strategy.
A standing Russian-Georgian expert workshop on a joint analysis of the challenges and threats arising in the North and South Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East could play a positive role.
Trade and economic cooperation
In the future, the gradual opening of the Russian market for the products of Georgian companies is not excluded. At the same time, Moscow is counting on practical steps to establish bilateral relations on the part of the Georgian authorities, which will be taken simultaneously with the opening of the market. To speed up this process from the Georgian side, an authorized entity is needed who is able to take on all the stages of negotiations, both political and technical.
In addition to the special representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia for Russia, efforts may be required through the trade and industry associations of the two countries or the creation of a special organization of exporters in Georgia. This is especially relevant in the context of Georgia’s participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the economic and tourism projects associated with it.
It would be useful to limit the flow of hostile rhetoric exchanged between the press of the two countries. Russia, for its part, has already significantly reduced it and is waiting for symmetrical steps from the Georgian side.
It is advisable to take steps to ease the visa regime for Georgian citizens, especially for students, creative intelligentsia, clergy, and tourists.
Receiving education in Russia should again become one of the real opportunities for Georgian applicants. The program of measures may include the facilitation of a visa regime for students, the holding of an educational exhibition in Tbilisi, the opening in major cities of the Russian Culture Centers, and the symmetrical opening of the Georgian Culture Centers in Moscow and other Russian cities.
A significant problem remains the weakness of Russian studies in Georgia and Georgian in Russia. It is necessary not only to significantly facilitate scientific and educational contacts of the two countries, but also to give them an impetus by distributing research grants through authorized organizations according to a transparent procedure. The great potential for improving bilateral relations is in the interaction of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches. It is long overdue to launch a program of cultural dialogue and days to commemorate major events of common history (following the example of the Russian Film Festival in Tbilisi and the Days of Ilya Chavchavadze in St. Petersburg).
Nikolay Silaev is a senior researcher at the Center for Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security of MGIMO (U) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
Andrei Sushentsov is a Senior Lecturer at the Department for Applied Analysis of International Problems at MGIMO (U) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. In 2007, he was a visiting researcher at Georgetown University (USA); at 2008, he was a visiting researcher at Johns Hopkins University (USA).
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