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.
Amid ongoing concerns about continued borderisation along South Ossetian administrative boundary line (ABL) with rest of Georgia, group of Georgians demonstrated near ABL 9 and 14 July after Russian forces reportedly moved “border signs” further into Georgian territory in June near Bershueti village, Gori municipality. Group of Georgians patrolling near village during daytime since 25 July “to prevent new arrests” of Georgian citizens by Russian forces. Criminal incidents against Russian tourists in Abkhazia, including fatal stabbing, raised questions in Abkhazia and Russia about ability of local law-enforcement agencies to sustain order and seek accountability. Ukrainian President Poroshenko visited Georgia 17-19 July; presidents signed agreement pledging to work together on goals including EU and NATO accession. Poroshenko 26 July revoked former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship; Saakashvili lost his Georgian passport in 2015 when he took Ukrainian citizenship to take up governor post there. U.S. VP Pence 31 July visited Georgia to demonstrate continued support, as Georgia began hosting joint military exercise involving troops from U.S., UK, Germany and several neighbouring states.
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.