Conducted by Sean
ever be able to live next door to a Saakashvili-run government
in Georgia or one that is equally western-oriented?
Well, the way things have been going, it looks like it will have
to. The question is whether Georgia is fated to be Russia's
Cuba, and unfortunately the signs point in that direction. Prior
to the war, it looked like there might be a chance to put their
relations on a new footing, but that has again been spoiled.
To flip your question
around, we can ask whether Georgia will be able to survive as a
western-oriented state living next door to Russia. Can it build
a sustainable economy, can it orient itself more closely on
Europe without a hasty road to NATO membership? With open
Russian military occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,
Georgian security is diminished even if Russia has pulled its
troops entirely out of the rest of Georgia. This looming threat,
if it remains in place, will cast a shadow on Georgia's future
Russia reconcile its recent recognition of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia with its steadfast refusal to accept independence for
It's simple. The United States and the European countries that
recognized Kosovo's independence insisted that it wasn't a
precedent for other unrecognized states. Russia just turns that
around and insists that the independence of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia is also not a precedent for other unrecognized states.
(Incidentally, it's the same logic that allows Turkey to
recognize Northern Cyprus but reject the independence of
Nagorno-Karabakh). It was fairly clear that this could become a
problem once the U.S. and others unilaterally recognized
Kosovo's independence without United Nations sanction or Serbian
consent. At least in the Kosovo case, however, there had been a
genuine international effort to achieve resolution. In the case
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia had done all it could to
block multilateral efforts at resolution prior to asserting the
independence of these two regions.
an economic benefit for either Georgia or Russia to have
Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their camp, or is the issue simply
a nationalist one?
There are some
economic and strategic benefits, to be sure – the Abkhazian
coastline makes up a good half of Georgia's Black Sea coast,
while South Ossetia sits astride what would be the central
north-south highway and is an enclave indistinguishable from the
Georgian territory that surrounds it and extremely close to
Tbilisi and the country's east-west artery to boot. Add to this
the issue of internally displaced Georgians from Abkhazia that
made up almost a majority of the population before the 1992-1993
war, and Georgia's firm belief that these regions are as
"Georgian" as they are "Abkhazian" and "Ossetian," and you can
easily understand the level of Georgia’s commitment.
For Russia, Abkhazia
is also of appeal both as a sizeable extension of Russia's own
Black Sea coastline, for its real estate and tourism potential,
and even as a source of construction materials and spillover
accommodation for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. South Ossetia is of
little value in and of itself, but it does provide a useful way
to exercise military power to the south of the Caucasus mountain
range and might also be a useful site for "shadow" economic
activity tucked away from notice. Also, by supporting both
regions, Russia has raised its stock among several of the
peoples of the North Caucasus – both among the already staunchly
loyal North Ossetians and the various Circassian/Kabardian
ethnic kin of the Abkhaz in the west.
Finally, for Russia,
it provides a continued hedge against Georgia's NATO membership.
As long as there is a prospect of renewed conflict, it will be
difficult for Georgia to secure membership, at least on the
basis of the alliance commitments as they now are written.
Georgia may get a NATO Membership Action Plan, either in
December or later down the road, but there will be plenty of
hesitation among NATO members to commit to Georgia's security as
a full-fledged NATO ally. Hence, Russia has put Georgia in what
it knows is, for now, an untenable situation – Georgia might be
able to readily become a NATO member, but only if it peacefully
and formally accepted Russia's takeover of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. As long as it is not willing to do so, the question of
NATO membership will continue to be delayed.
effect will the proposed US assistance package of $1 billion
have on stabilizing Georgia?
package was important, first of all, as a signal of strong US
support for Georgia, even if the US was not interested in
defending Georgia militarily. That said, $1 billion is a lot of
money to serve only as a symbol. There's a lot of work to be
done on thinking about the most effective use of the money,
combined with the already significant aid flows that have been
coming into Georgia in the last years.
US or EU have done more at the outset to prevent the crisis in
South Ossetia, or at least to prevent its rapid escalation?
take a longer view on the crisis, certainly the US and EU could
have jointly decided to make it a priority to internationalize
the South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts, and to pressure
and/or persuade Russia to go along with the transformation of
the peacekeeping missions into international forces and even
possibly to establish an international administration. But the
will wasn't there to make this a priority, and there were doubts
that such a plan would even succeed. That would have been the
surest way to prevent a recurrence of conflict.
Ultimately, the US
and EU were relying on Georgia to accept its weak military
position vis-ŕ-vis Russia, and for Russia to restrain from going
overboard in its role as a revitalized regional power. There
were limits to what Western countries were willing or able to
make Russia do, and though the US could tell Georgia (as it did)
that if it were to fight Russia, it would fight it alone,
Georgia's leadership could still convince itself that it might
still be able to achieve its objectives or, at least, that it
was better to try and defend its position than to watch its
attrition as Russia consolidated control of both regions.
Medvedev recently reiterated Russia's intention to protect its
sphere of influence. Is this likely to redraw the map in the
Caucasus, or otherwise produce significant change in the region?
a question of fulcrums, really. Georgia and Ukraine have been
viewed as the possible tipping countries that could lead to a
fundamental shift in the post-Soviet space, with Azerbaijan,
Moldova, and conceivably even Armenia and Belarus joining
Eastern "Europe." Outside Russia this has not really been seen
as a zero-sum game, but Russia has perceived that such shifts
would come mainly at its expense. Now we will see if such
movement slows down or, conceivably, accelerates. The problem
with interpreting the import of the conflict, of course, is that
it is still difficult to determine what would have happened in
its absence. The geopolitics of the entire region was uncertain.
to Turkey and Armenia, can their relationship truly improve
without a resolution on the genocide issue?
It has been a consistent point of Armenian state policy that
Yerevan does not at all require genocide recognition in order to
normalize relations with Turkey. For its part, though Turkey
would like Armenia to publicly renounce territorial claims (a
rather peculiar demand given that such claims do not formally
exist), it would be hard-pressed to maintain this as the
obstacle to normalization. The challenge really lies in the
Karabakh conflict, and whether Turkey is prepared to normalize
relations with Armenia given the status-quo. This will deeply
alienate Azerbaijan, unless there is a context to this
normalization that would make it in Azerbaijan's favor to at
least tolerate normalization. Otherwise, Turkey will have to
decide whether it can mollify Azerbaijan in other ways.