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.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Originally published in World Politics Review
EU-facilitated talks between govt and opposition concluded without deal, while opposition lawmakers in de facto South Ossetia ended six-month boycott of parliament. After court last month sentenced leader of main opposition party United National Movement Nika Melia to pre-trial detention, prompting PM Giorgi Gakharia to resign in protest, European Council President Charles Michel 1 March arrived in capital Tbilisi and, without prior notice, invited both ruling party and opposition to joint meeting; following talks, both sides declared their commitment to continue discussions on contentious issues, including recent parliamentary elections, arrest of opposition members and need to reinforce role of opposition in parliament. Michel 8 March appointed Christian Danielsson as special envoy to continue talks; Danielsson 12-19 March held meetings with both parties and announced that discussions concluded without deal; opposition said ruling party refused to demonstrate flexibility regarding their demands for snap elections and release of those detained, while ruling party said opposition had put forward “anti-state ultimatums”. Michel 23 March announced that Danielsson will return to Tbilisi by 27 March to continue talks; following further talks between govt and opposition on EU proposal for agreement that included provisions of electoral and judicial reform as well as addressing “politicised justice”, Danielsson 31 March said he was “sad to report that none of the political parties could agree to this solution in whole.” In breakaway South Ossetia, opposition parliamentarians 16 March returned to parliament for vote on candidacy for new PM after six-month boycott; de facto President Anatoliy Bibilov’s candidate Gennady Bekoyev was confirmed as PM. De facto leader early 4 March announced constitutional reforms subject to possible referendum.
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.
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