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.
Russian MP’s perceived insult to Georgia during 26th General Assembly of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy prompted thousands to protest in capital Tbilisi and raised tensions between Georgia and Russia. Russian MP, Sergey Gavrilov, provoked outrage 20 June when, broadcast live on various Georgian TV channels, he addressed Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy held in Georgia’s parliament building in Tbilisi from seat of Georgian parliament speaker and spoke in Russian. Group of Georgian opposition MPs rushed to parliament building to demand suspension of session. Protesters same day gathered outside parliament and Russian delegation’s hotel prompting Russian delegation to return to Russia; thousands took to streets in Tbilisi demanding resignation of senior officials whom they held responsible for Russian MP’s appearance in parliament; that night opposition MPs and supporters stormed parliament leading to clashes with riot police; police forcibly dispersed protesters hospitalising over 240 and arresting about 300. Protests continued till end month and were set to continue in July, with demonstrators calling for resignations of top officials, electoral reform and early elections. Parliamentary speaker and MP who had organised 20 June event resigned 21 June and ruling party agreed to initiate electoral reform. Russian President Putin 21 June temporarily banned passenger flights to Georgia from 8 July and ordered evacuation of Russian citizens from Georgia. Russian FM 24 June blamed West for “engineering” protests. De facto Abkhaz security forces 27 June announced restrictions for crossing into breakaway region in response to Tbilisi protests.
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.
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.