Home / A Player or a Weakling? A Simple Truth about Georgia

A Player or a Weakling? A Simple Truth about Georgia 1

Georgia has a long history and it has survived empires. This very fact leads us to the conclusion that Georgia possesses something special. Is this geography? Probably yes. Georgia’s location is unique – it has an access to the Black Sea and at the same time it borders the Caucasus Mountains. The latter served as a natural border for Georgia for many centuries – until Georgia allowed Russia to cross this border and establish itself in the South Caucasus region. After that Georgia lost one of its key functions – controlling a border with Russia. Both Turkey and Iran realized that Georgians held a key to the balance in the region; their hegemony in the South Caucasus depended on Georgia’s willingness to keep the border closed and on Russia’s ambitions. Once Russia got interested in entering the region and once Georgians decided to open the border the South Caucasus was never again the same.

After losing this function Georgia lost its statehood as well. Independence was regained some 25 years ago but Georgia has never regained the above mentioned function – control over the Caucasus Mountains. First Georgia had problems with separatism in the Tskhinvali region, after that Russian “peacekeepers” were stationed in the same region. After 2008 war there is a Russian military base stationed on this side of the Caucasus Mountains, close to Tbilisi.

When Georgia was a strong regional player (under king David the Builder) it not only controlled the Caucasus Mountains but was also a part of the Great Silk Road. David was a shrewd politician. He introduced privileges for foreign traders (something modern Georgian xenophobes would dislike very much) and thus made it possible to alter the traditional Great Silk Road route and make Georgia its part. For protecting this achievement he needed a strong army and he brought some 40 families from the North Caucasus (again, something modern Georgian xenophobes would dislike very much). Quite soon after David’s reign Georgia lost this function and it disappeared not only as a regional power but as a unified country too.

Georgia was to regain its unity later under king George the Brilliant. The latter took advantage of the weakening Mongolian rule and played very smartly. When the Mongolian empire started to crumble, he demonstrated loyalty to his masters instead of alienating and antagonizing them. The Mongolian rule finally was finished and the conquerors left Georgia without harming it. Thanks to George the Brilliant the country emerged not only independent but also unified. Unfortunately no one in Georgia remembered this shrewd strategy in late 80-ies when the Soviet Union started to crumble. Georgians antagonized the Russian rulers and provoked their harsh response in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Like the Mongolian empire the Soviet Union was doomed and so it collapsed. Georgia emerged independent but not unified. But this is another topic. More important thing is that after George the Brilliant Georgia failed to preserve its unity and it happened because once again the country was left without any serious function. George the Brilliant was good at handling weakening empire but he did not become another David the Builder.

The history speaks for itself. The simple truth is that without an important function Georgia is lost. In early 90-ies Georgia was in a chaos. Only after the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline the revival began – Georgia partly regained its function of East-West route.

After 2012 elections there are fierce debates about Georgia’s role and place. Sometimes we hear that Georgia should keep a very low profile and “be what it is” – a small, humble country” that the previous government overplayed its card, that it aimed too high which ended up in war with Russia.

I could not agree on one point – it was not necessary to publicly antagonize Russia. Job has to be done, Georgia had to be brought to NATO and the EU but it was to be done more quietly. It was impossible to avoid war in August 2008 but maybe it was possible in 2007…

But Georgians love extremes. From one extreme we are heading for another one. If under previous government Georgia was overambitious and it openly defied Russia, now Georgia is humble and quiet, Georgian question hardly attracts such as interest as it used to be years ago (at international conferences and seminars Georgia was discusses next to Ukraine and sometimes above Ukraine, now it has fallen way below). Russia albeit has annexed Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region and in response to this one of the ministers still asserts that “Putin is no enemy of Georgia.”

Do people like this minister seriously believe that if Georgia is humble, if Georgia looks weak then Georgia is safer?

In fact history abounds with facts that tells us very simple truth – the Russians respect strength, they despise weaklings. Putin despises most of the European leaders because they can be bullied. He makes them wait for hours. But when for example Turkish present Erdogan retorted sharply to Putin’s comments about Armenian genocide and reminded him about Crimea, Putin’s press secretary replied in a conciliatory way and expressed hope that the situation would not affect Russo-Turkish relationship{1}. Strength, not norms and values are respected in the vast space where Mongolians ruled once and where current Russian rulers are building Eurasian Union.

Georgia has no natural resources, Georgian agriculture is underdeveloped (in fact the country has to import agricultural products whereas a large part of the population is employed in agricultural sector), let alone heavy industry or high tech. It will take not only vast resources but also intensified training to change things, not to mention time. But it will be much easier to capitalize on Georgia’s unique location – invest heavily in modernizing infrastructure, attract foreign capital by further liberalizing legislation and making Georgia even safer and even friendlier place. This definitely can be done without antagonizing Russia and provoking another war. However we see that for example construction of the Tbilisi-Batumi highway has stalled, there are questions about the Karsi-Akhalkalaki railway construction too, due to legislative changes citizens of rich and developed countries (potential investors and tourists) lose their enthusiasm for coming to Georgia…

Unfortunately these examples are not isolated. They harm the country and if things do not improve Georgia will not only fail to capitalize on its location and to assert its place in the region but Georgia also will become even poorer than it is now.

Some may feel sorry for poor countries, some may pay for poor countries for some time, but everything has its limits. Hardy anyone, especially Russia will respect weak countries.

Georgia has a unique geography and if it fails to take advantage of this gift then someone else will do it. It has already happened. It will happen again if we do not realize the simple truths.

{1} See link

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