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.
Breakaway republic South Ossetia (SO) 9 April elected new de facto President Anatoliy Bibilov, who campaigned for closer links with Russia, with 54.8% of vote; incumbent Leonid Tibilov, supported by Moscow, gained only 33.7%. In parallel vote 80% agreed to add “State of Alania” to previous official name “Republic of South Ossetia”. Local observers and activists said elections were first providing free choice to people since Russia’s recognition of SO in 2008, including with opposition rallies and televised debates. Tbilisi, U.S. and EU said vote illegitimate; Kremlin envoy attended Bibilov’s inauguration 21 April. Bibilov 12 April said he would promote local citizens to main govt offices, currently occupied by Russians. Russian FM Lavrov 18-19 April visited breakaway republic Abkhazia to open new “embassy” and meet with de facto president. Lavrov said his country favoured opening of trade routes with Georgia through Abkhazia; Abkhaz de facto leadership reiterated readiness to promote transit, providing Georgia recognises Abkhaz authority in issue. Tbilisi called Lavrov’s visit violation of Georgian sovereignty, expressed deep disappointment in light of two countries’ regular talks, moves to reestablish cooperation. Parliament constitution commission 22 April finalised its work on constitution project. Proposed amendments, which provoked protest from opposition, President Margvelashvili and civil society, include president being elected by delegates rather than by direct vote, and shift to proportional electoral system.
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.