What does Russia want from Georgia?
Nino Imedashvili, Ilia State University
What does Russia want from Georgia?
We’ve all thought about what Russia wants from Georgia. Politicians have often given unrealistic expectations that an independent Georgia can "make arrangements" with Russia. However, the answer to this question is directly related to the electoral behavior of society and the adequate (democratic) development of our country.
Why is it important to know what Russia wants?
Despite the historical continuity of Russian aggression towards Georgia, ongoing since 1801, the "deformative narrative" about Russian aggression still sees some success, according to which the responsibility for this aggression lies with the country that is actually the victim of the aggression. It is as if the victim provoked Russia, irritated it, and in the end led to its being unable to avoid another war, another occupation, or economic and energy sanctions.
According to the latest "deformative narrative", the invasion of Georgia by the Russian regular army on August 7, 2008, and the expansion of the occupation, are blamed on President Saakashvili, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is blamed on President Zelensky. Although facts confirmed by many historical sources demonstrate the contrary, this narrative is the product of Russian propaganda, which serves two purposes:
- By blaming the victim, it is an attempt to cover and blind others to Russia's guilt in such a manner that it decreases and limits the Western reaction in response to the conquering of a neighboring country;
- Deformation of history. History has a great influence on the decisions of political elites and on the electoral behavior of voters, and, overall, on the Western development of the country. If Georgian society believes that the war of 2008 is the fault of the Georgians, and the war of 2022 is the fault of Ukraine, and this issue causes division within Georgian society, unity in the selected Western course, and the desire to strengthen the country's statehood and contain Russia, will be broken.
Therefore, it is important to clearly formulate the requirements of modern Russia towards its bordering countries; in particular, Georgia.
What are Russia’s demands?
American scholar Thomas Ambrosio, in his book titled "Authoritarian Backlash: Russian Resistance to Democratization in the Former Soviet Union," published in 2009, explained Russia's relations with its neighbors (in particular its aggressiveness) by the Kremlin's resistance to the spread of democracy in the region. Because democracy, which is contagious and often spreads in waves, is a way of constantly renewing political power and leaders, it threatens the "stability" of Russia's ruling authoritarian regime.
Therefore, the Kremlin's strategy towards democratizing neighbors is to remove their pro-Western leaders by staging destabilization. According to Ambrosio, authoritarian Russia, by maintaining, assisting and bolstering similar regimes in the neighborhood, is trying to halt democracy and in this manner to survive.
In the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is less and less doubtful that with the fears of regime change in Russia and elsewhere in the region
- Countries and organizations promoting the spread of democracy (USA, NATO and European Union) are considered enemies;
- Russia maintains and strengthens those organizations (CIS, Eurasian Union, CSTO) that it can use to pressure bordering countries standing on the path of democracy;
- It spreads the myth that Russia and its bordering countries have different cultural identities and democratic values that are incompatible with them;
- Russia opposes NATO/EU expansion. There is no objective threat to Russia from them, but for the Kremlin, "security" is synonymous with authoritarianism, something that would be difficult to maintain in such a neighborhood.
Russia's military aggressiveness is explained by these fears. The former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said in an interview that during her last meeting with Putin, she was convinced the only thing Putin wants is to stay in power, so she was not surprised by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Russia's western (Belarus, Ukraine) and southern (Georgia, Armenia) neighbors are particularly problematic for the Kremlin. The former Soviet republics located there have the desire and opportunity to integrate with the democratic West. In this regard, Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan) is less of a concern, because Russia's possible competitors there are still authoritarian states (China). Therefore, for the political "stability" of the ruling regime of Russia, it is vital to create a "security zone" on the western and southern borders with significant military, political, and economic influence on these countries.
At this stage, Russia has succeeded only in Belarus. This is a country without sovereignty, completely controlled by the Kremlin. Lukashenko counts 28 years of being in power with Russian "assistance". It is significant that, according to the resolution of the European Parliament, the formal ruler of Belarus is a co-partner of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Russia seeks to spread the "Belarusian model" to its neighbors. This is a model where the country has actually lost its independence, its strategic assets (railways, communications, oil and gas pipelines) are in the hands of the Kremlin, and the Kremlin has full control over its foreign and security policy, as well as its public servants’/personnel policy.
Therefore, the Kremlin believes that its "security", that is, preventing a regime change, is best protected if the bordering countries do not have political, economic, energy or military ties with the West. No-one in the neighborhood gives an example of alternative or democratic development. Therefore, Russia wants to isolate its bordering countries from the West, because only in this way can the "security" of Russia, or the ruling power, be achieved.
How does Georgia pose a threat to Russia?
Based on the logic described above, if the Kremlin cannot intervene in the strategic decisions of the bordering countries and cannot control the foreign, energy, economic and military ties of this country, the Kremlin’s patrons believe that the dominance is weakened/lost and the "stability" of Russia itself is at risk.
Georgia has opposed Russian control and domination several times:
- Georgia was one of the first to declare the Soviet government and its occupation as illegal on June 20, 1990. Georgia held democratic elections (October 28, 1990) and defeated the Communist Party in the still active Soviet Union. Georgia announced the country's independence (April 9, 1991) before the collapse of the Soviet Union (December 26, 1991).
- Georgia established energy connections with Azerbaijan and Turkey without Russian control, and launched construction of a successful transit energy project in 2002: The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum South Caucasian gas pipeline.
- Georgia was the first in the post-Soviet region to refuse to accept election numbers written by the ruling political elite because they did not reflect the will of the people. In 2003, the Georgian people peacefully protested the rigged elections and replaced the officially declared winning political force (Citizens' Union).
- Georgia refused to allow Russia to control not only the personnel policy in the field of defense and security, but also the country’s foreign and energy ties. Georgia openly demanded integration into Western organizations and carried out reforms for this purpose.
That is why Russia repeatedly used economic, energy and military pressure on Georgia. The example of Ukraine should remind us of this and show us that accommodating the wishes/interests of the Kremlin ends with Lukashenko's model.
Where does the solution lie?
Authoritarian Russia could not and cannot stop halfway. The country it seeks to regain dominance over must either become fully involved in the Kremlin's criminal network, or resist it. In the latter case, there is a risk of war, as shown by the examples of Georgia and Ukraine. But along with this risk comes the hope of international aid and backing.
Staying in the zone of Russian influence itself does not prevent the risk of war, as seen by the example of Belarus, already on the side of the aggressor and under the condition of international isolation.
If Georgia continues its democratic (suspended) reforms, only in this case will it maintain its functional independence and sovereignty, and have a chance to receive the European and Euro-Atlantic security umbrella. The process is not simultaneous and the path is risky. But there is no alternative.
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