Unresolved conflicts and breakaway territories divide five out of six of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries, most of them directly backed by the Russian Federation. But a policy of isolating the people living in these conflict regions narrows the road to peace.
European Parliament 2 Feb voted to grant visa-free travel for Georgian citizens to EU, expected to enter into force later March after it was approved by EU Council 27 Feb. Residents of conflict regions can make use of visa free travel provided they apply for Georgian passports. Georgia and Russia 7 Feb discussed prospects for trade through Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with intention to implement 2011 agreement signed before Georgia gave Russia green light to join WTO. Former Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab returned to Abkhazia 13 Feb after two years of absence to run as candidate in de facto parliamentary elections 12 March. Perceived Russian interference ahead of April de facto presidential election in breakaway republic South Ossetia, including reported pressure from Russian envoy on local elections commission to issue public statement against former leader Eduard Kokoity, prompted anger among residents. De facto President Tibilov 6 Feb signed decree scheduling referendum to change name of entity to “Republic of South Ossetia – the State of Alania”. Georgian FM Mikheil Janelidze met U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson in Washington DC 10 Feb, reported Tillerson expressed “full support” for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Whether the smooth transfer of power Georgia achieved after October’s bitter election sets a standard for democracy in its region depends on whether the new government can strengthen the independence and accountability of state institutions in what remains a fragile, even potentially explosive political climate.
On the third anniversary of their war over South Ossetia, talks between Georgia and Russia are needed to create positive momentum in a still unstable environment.
Georgia has maintained political and economic stability despite the shock of the 2008 war with Russia, but the government needs to use the two years before the next elections to create public trust in democratic institutions by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the opposition over further reforms.
The historically coveted region of Abkhazia has become even more dependent on Moscow since Russia’s controversial recognition a year and a half ago.
Ten months after the “August war” between Georgia and Russia, violent incidents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could again erupt.
The situation in and around Georgia’s conflict areas remains unstable. Violent incidents are continuing. Shots were fired near a convoy carrying the Georgian and Polish presidents on 23 November. European Union (EU) monitors are being denied access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Unambitious multi-party negotiations focusing on security and internally displaced person (IDP) return have gotten off to a slow start in Geneva. For the moment, however, domestic politics are the capital’s main preoccupation.
Renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine is quickly turning into a litmus test of Russia’s intentions in backing Ukrainian separatist rebels, and the real willingness of the West, in particular the United States, to support Kyiv. Fears over Washington’s wavering may also cause positions to harden in the protracted conflicts in Europe’s East, most immediately in Georgia.
Originally published in Today's Zaman
Originally published in Bloomberg
Georgia is in the midst of transitioning from a presidential to a mixed parliamantary system, in which much power will lie with the office of the Prime Minister. Elections later this year will determine whether current President Mikheil Saakashvili's party, United National Movement, will retain control of government. Medea Turashvili, Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, discusses what implications this might have on Georgia's domestic and foreign policy.