Georgia, a former Soviet republic that suffered its own Russian invasion in 2008 and Moscow’s destabilising support for its breakaway regions, is treading carefully on the war in Ukraine, fearing that if it upsets the Kremlin, it may be left to face the consequences alone.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Breakaway South Ossetia’s de facto leader, who has called for accession to Russia, competed in first round of presidential elections. Following late March announcement by de facto leader of breakaway South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov of intention to join Russia after April de facto presidential elections, Georgian leaders raised concern over possible Russian annexation of breakaway South Ossetia. At first round of de facto presidential election in breakaway territory, opposition leader Alan Gagloyev 10 April came in first with 38%; Bibilov came in second with 34.95%. Run-off vote was supposed to be held on 28 April but de facto central electoral commission rescheduled it for 8 May. Gagloyev 18 April met Kremlin official in Russia’s capital Moscow ahead of run-off election. Meanwhile, Abkhaz authorities and leaders maintained insistence on independence of de facto state in contrast to South Ossetia’s de facto leadership; however, Abkhaz de facto opposition Patriotic Movement and some Russian politicians during month maintained that Abkhaz accession to Russian Federation remained possible. After de facto parliamentary elections in breakaway Abkhazia in March, de facto parliament 11 April elected Lasha Ashuba as speaker. State Security Service 18 April declared release of Georgian citizen Vladimer Kaniashvili, formerly detained in breakaway South Ossetia in Dec 2021. Meanwhile, family of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili late month demanded authorities permit Saakashvili to obtain urgent medical treatment in foreign country; family warned of protests if request not met by 2 May. Over dozen NGOs 28 April called for govt to ensure Saakashvili receives adequate medical treatment.
As elections draw near, increased tension at the line of separation with South Ossetia has helped put the future of normalisation with Russia in doubt. But whoever wins at the polls should not abandon dialogue, but rather build on it to frankly discuss these problems.
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.
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.
This summer’s protests in Georgia led to changes to the country’s electoral system. But the country’s new Prime Minister, Giorgi Gakharia, is a man protesters wanted ousted from the last government, in which he led the Interior Ministry. In this interview with World Politics Review, Europe & Central Asia Program Director Olga Oliker and Analyst for EU Eastern Neighbourhood Olesya Vartanyan consider what Gakharia’s tenure will bring, and how the parliamentary elections next year might play out in this atmosphere.
Originally published in World Politics Review
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.