Torn between Russia’s growing influence and increasing frictions in a historic alliance with the U.S., European states face new challenges to their security architecture. Olga Oliker calls Europe to embrace a dialogue on security and threats in the neighbourhood to build sustainable peace all across the region.
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Originally published in World Politics Review
Latest round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) talks 10-11 Dec, main forum to resolve conflict over Georgia’s breakaway republics, went badly amid continuing crisis around contested Georgian police outpost near South Ossetian separation line, which led to closure in Sept of main crossing point with Georgia-controlled territory. GID co-chairs reported “deteriorating situation on the ground” and participants’ “diverging positions on key issues of the agenda have become further entrenched”, with rising tensions leading to increase in incidents including detentions. Several prominent figures appealed to Moscow to support release of Georgian doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili, held in South Ossetian prison since 9 Nov; de facto South Ossetian court 20 Dec sentenced him to 1 year and 9 months’ imprisonment; de facto leadership 28 Dec granted him pardon, paving way for his immediate release. In positive development, following diplomatic efforts of GID, de facto South Ossetian leadership 2 Dec relieved restrictions on leaving territory for retired people and those with serious health conditions, although entrance to region still restricted; leadership also released local residents detained for accidental or first-time crossing into breakaway region. In Abkhazia, following fatal Nov shooting in central Sukhumi café, de facto govt 2 Dec dismissed interior minister and prosecutor general, same day as mass street protests by local opposition and activists. Elsewhere, united opposition parties and activists 6 Dec held anti-govt protest in western city Kutaisi calling for fully proportional parliamentary elections in 2020; ruling Georgia Dream party organised pro-govt rally in Tbilisi 14 Dec attended by tens of thousands, mainly employees of state-run organisations.
Informal trade is increasing between Georgia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and between Abkhazia and countries outside the region. Trade alone cannot transform the parties’ core political differences. But talks among them on mutually beneficial commerce could open lines of communication long cemented shut.
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 Georgian government has been in crisis for quite a long time. Mr. Ivanishvili’s comeback and popular protests are just symptoms of this process.
Over the last three years, we have been seeing a serious decline in the situation in the districts [of South Ossetia] mainly populated by ethnic Georgians.
There was a social media campaign two years ago [in Abkhazia] encouraging people to boycott the funerals of anyone who died after seeking medical care in Tbilisi.
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.
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.
Originally published in Today's Zaman
Originally published in Bloomberg