With occupying Georgia in 2008 and invading Ukraine in 2014, Russia returned power politics to Europe, highlighting its dissatisfaction with existing European security arrangement and its commitment to reestablishing the rules of 19th century great power politics, where the balance of power, buffer zones and spheres of influence was everyday life of international relations. It is undeniable that Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its aggression in Ukraine have shifted regional balance of power in favor of Moscow. It is quiet visible that the consequences of this power change is subtly reshaping already fluid national and ideological allegiances on the ground and alarmingly transforming regional alignment patterns. Russia’s growing assertiveness, the EU’s deepening division and the U.S.’s inconsistent policies toward the post-soviet space has, in great part, weakened Western influence in the region and consequently diminished once growing thirst for great democratic transformations while increased relevance of pro-Russian, ultranationalist and religious forces, intending to unite the region under Eurasian Union-Moscow led alternative to the EU. Undoubtedly, the shifting geopolitical dynamics will have significant implications for Georgia’s structural and foreign policy developments as it will need to walk a thin line to accommodate growing geopolitical and strategic interests of aggressive Russia while trying to cooperate and ultimately integrate into the West.
There is a common practice in geopolitics that a regional or a global power, in addition to enjoying its hard power advantages, promotes a certain ideology and a particular type of governance partly to help it increase its commercial and strategic edge over its rivals and partly to ensure its regional or global dominance. At different times, revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, the Great Britain and the Soviet Union struggled to install friendly governments in weaker and less organized realms not only to satisfy their geopolitical ambitions, but to gain more in economic, political and military terms. In the wake of the cold war, however, Russia’s opposition to the West, with the absence of ideological clarity, platform or basis, weakened and evolved into a cooperation, at least on a range of things, as it was unable to come up neither with an adequate ideological nor economical formula to confront both enlarging European Union and thriving the United States.
However, while Russia was making first steps towards political democratization and economic liberalization, and gradually warming its relationships with its erstwhile enemies in the west, it continued 19th century’s brutal balance of power politics in it “Near Abroad”. Unsatisfied by the fact that it could not exercise outright control over the newly freed republics, due to its insufficient political, economic and ideological resources, nor shape their foreign and security policies, it destabilized, subverted and ultimately undermined their sovereignty and territorial integrity, hoping that the division and uncertainty would increase their dependence on Moscow. Thus, in the initial years of the post-cold war period, Moscow directly or indirectly contributed to the creation of ethnic tensions, conflicts, wars and ultimately so-called frozen-conflicts-Transnistria in Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Given the political instabilities and economic uncertainties, coupled with Russia’s continued military interventions, the region grew increasingly unattractive for the West to invest sufficiently in its political, economic and social developments. At its core, Russia’s strategy succeeded partly to retain its foothold in the region and partly to prevent western influence from predominating in the former satellite states.
Despite Russia’s political and military interventions- at the end of the twentieth century-the thirst in the region for political democratization, economic liberalization and euro integration strengthened rather than waned. Georgians’ unyielding activism for democratic change on the one hand and the West’s visibly increased efforts in engaging failing former soviet republics on the other, resulted in dramatic changes in Georgia. In the fall of 2003, pro-democratic movements, supported and funded by American and European democracy promotion programs, peacefully toppled undemocratic, ineffective and corrupt regime in Tbilisi. This peaceful uprising that was later called Rose Revolution spread rapidly to other post-soviet republics and swept away barely standing corrupt and dysfunctional governments- Orange revolution in Ukraine and Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan. This whole chain of events unfolded in the post-soviet space, strengthened progressive and liberal forces in Georgia, underscoring the fact that the country was maturing for real democracy to take hold, while threatening Russia’s previously unchallenged influence over Tbilisi.
Since then, regardless of its overwhelming external and internal challenges, Georgia not only survived, but progressed in terms of political, economic and social development. As it embarked on its course towards Euro-Atlantic integration, Georgian state painfully, but effectively reformed its internal political system- broke down petty corruption, improved the system of tax collections, quadrupled state budget, deregulated legal environment to do business, created and facilitated government services for population, dislodged organized crime that had influence on political system, transferred real political power- through democratic elections- from one political entity to another-unprecedented fact in the region, dismantled a tradition of one party system which had very often blurred the line between party and the state, strengthened civil society, increased interoperability with NATO forces and finally signed an association agreement with the EU. More importantly, Georgia managed, to certain degree, transitioning from being ethnocentric and religiously defined society to the one that is more open, inclusive and civic based. In fact it created more western conception of what nation is about. Unexpectedly, Georgian story has become bigger than the country itself, it became a “role model” for the countries in transition and the subject of numerous studies in western higher education institutions.
Notwithstanding Georgia’s notable progress and advancement in terms of reforming, reorganizing and rebranding itself, it has remained relatively a weak state vulnerable to both hostile geopolitical dynamics and Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics. It is worth noting that the combination of the United States adapted strategy of retrenchment in the region and Russia’s hybrid warfare incursions, has been posing great threat to the integrity of political and social structures of Georgian state and ultimately its foreign policy orientation. In this regard, the religion, tradition and nationalism have proven to be quite effective weapons in Moscow’s toolkit as it demonizes western ideals, principles and ultimately Western way of life while energizing criminal, ultranationalist and religious -fundamentalist- elements engaged in pro-Russian activities. It is also worth highlighting that Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics have been effectively manipulating and reshaping Georgians’ attitudes and beliefs towards Russia and its muscular policies. In spite of Russia’s continued aggression-borderization- against Georgian state, not to mention the war of 2008 between the two, the proponents of pro-Russian politics in Georgia have risen steadily from 11 percent in late 2013 to 16 percent in mid-2014. Moreover, the most recent polls conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) revealed the signs of growing support (31%) for joining Moscow led Eurasian Union. Yet, most concerning is the fact that the similar trends are being found in most of the post-soviet republics. And, as this gradual process of regional de-westernization continues, Moscow will find it easier to shape already fragile national and ideological allegiances on the ground while strengthening its clout in the country and beyond.
Hence, the ongoing geopolitical changes in the region and the patterns of foreign policy orientation shifting, have clearly underscored the emergence of new regional balance of power in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Russia’s increasing assertiveness on the one hand and the West’s growing disengagement from the region on the other, have marked a turning point for the post-soviet space with the former-soviet republics adapting new foreign policy strategies-more favorable to Moscow. Taking into account Russia’s aggressive posture towards its neighboring countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, not to mention the Central Asian States, have become more accommodating to Moscow’s imperialist interests. For instance, Azerbaijan’s relationship with the West and particularly with the U.S. has visibly gone downhill in recent years while intensified its economic, political and military engagement with Moscow. Moreover, whereas Armenia-along with Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova- was preparing to sign association agreement with the EU, it changed its mind at the last moment and joined Eurasian Union. Similar trends are being seen all around the central Asia and elsewhere.
In light of this situation, the west can no longer ignore Georgia and its pro-western aspirations as it may run out of steam and back away from the path towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Bearing in mind Georgia’s impressive contributions to the global security-International Security Missions in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and African Republic- as well as the quality and the speed of its recent advances in terms of political, economic and social developments, not to mention of being a success story of western policies in the region, Tbilisi deserves to be getting more concrete and tangible assistance rather than rhetorical assurances from its western partners. Nevertheless- regrettably- there have not been any signs or indications from Western capitals that would facilitate, accelerate or guarantee Georgia’s further integration into the Western institutions. Parallel can be made between the expanding security threats that Georgian state is currently grappling with and the one “The first Georgian Republic” encountered in the early 1900s. By rejecting the idea of defending Georgia militarily in case of the Soviet aggression in January of 1920(despite numerous promises of military assistance), the League of the Nations practically agreed to Georgia’s return back into Russia’s sphere of influence. After that decision, it took the soviets only one year to reincorporate Georgia into the newly rebranded Soviet empire. Similarly, the West’s growing indifference and negligence towards Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, given visible military reinforcements of NATO members along the borders of post-soviet territories, is also being uniformly considered as an indirect recognition of Russia’s authority over non- NATO states, dividing, isolating and reestablishing the “New Iron Curtain” in the region. And, as this conflict deepens and intensifies, Moscow will gradually pressure, time to time punish Georgian state- among other post-soviet republics- for its desires and independent aspirations while installing regime of its liking to settle or possibly address potential instabilities on the ground. If things continue the way it has been, Georgia will lose its statehood and inevitably join the enlarging pool of unattractive and stagnant countries in the region, finding itself once more betrayed, weakened and dismembered while running a risk of falling prey to the imperialistic designs coming out of Moscow.
The article does not represent the opinion of the government of Georgia. The views expressed are solely those of the author.