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 15 Nov passed resolution praising reforms in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, said they could be considered for membership in future. EU Eastern Partnership Summit issued declaration saying summit participants “acknowledge the European aspirations” of partners concerned, as stated in Association Agreements. U.S. 17 Nov approved sale of Javelin anti-tank systems to Georgia. Ruling Georgian Dream party secured five out of six municipalities in 12 Nov run-off vote for local elections, having secured majority of seats in Oct first round. Authorities in Tbilisi 22 Nov conducted large-scale special operation to arrest individuals suspected of links to foreign terrorist groups: three gunmen died, one later identified by authorities as high-level Chechen Islamic State (ISIS) commander suspected of involvement in June 2016 attack on Istanbul airport in Turkey; one soldier died from injuries. President of Pacific island state Nauru, which has recognised breakaway republics, visited Abkhazia 12 Nov, next day met de facto South Ossetian leader in Moscow; Georgia condemned visit. De facto South Ossetia 26 Nov released one Georgian prisoner in exchange for one Abkhaz prisoner released from Georgian prison.
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.