The crisis provoked by Russia, which has even been dubbed “organized chaos,” is a subject of daily discussions and evaluations. Almost all assessments can be summarized in one key message: Moscow is trying to radically change the essence of the order that took shape, first, after the Second World War and then, after the end of the Cold War, in order to turn the balance of Euro-Atlantic power to its own advantage and make fundamental changes to the code of conduct in international relations by openly introducing power in it as a dominant component. That open and dangerous revisionism, as well as the undermining of the abovementioned, to put it mildly, imperfect model, having emerged after the aforementioned wars, takes place at the expense of Russia’s neighboring countries. Our intention is to discuss the “old-new” reality of this very neighborhood, of which Georgia is part, and to draw out conclusions that will be neither pleasant nor acceptable for all.
Without an exact name?
Controversial has been a word (and a rather mild one) used to describe the reality around our country. We will try to explain why.
For many years, Georgia has continued to exist in uncertainty and to advance along the path of its civilizational choice. This path, which is marked both with achievements and failures, is distinguished for the strength of national consensus and a societal decision to see the country becoming a fully-fledged participant of European political unity. Our journey along this path is supported and encouraged by Georgia’s partner countries. Nevertheless, we must admit that something in “our” and “their” movement towards each other does not fit ideally. The question is where is that critical point of divergence which despite a very long section walked through by both parties, makes the prospect of finishing this path so distant that it is impossible to reach out and firmly clasp our hands. It should be noted that this joint project of Georgia-Euro-Atlantic partnership is, at first glance, flawless both in its form and substance: against their continuous supportive assessments and steps, the Georgian state continues to do, though not always impeccably, its homework and advance towards the set goal. Why does then a segment of supporters of this process feel somewhat dissatisfied? Has the time not come to start openly discussing reasons of this dissatisfaction?
The time has clearly come. Let me remind those thinking that discussion of this issue is untimely that the Russian demarche has left no time and room to either Georgians or our Western partners for “averaged” explanations. As regards an inadequate movement of Georgia and its Western partners towards each other, the reason of it, I believe, is the lack of capacity to take comprehensive (not partial), timely (not delayed), result-oriented (not effect-oriented) decisions as well as the lack of will to implement them.
Against this backdrop and especially, in the situation created by the Russian demarche, the lack of capacity and will harms the joint project of Georgian-Western integration: it may slow down the rate of integration, while in terms of its outcome, may push our country from geopolitical uncertainty into a geopolitical abyss. We still have time left to avoid it, although the Russian demarche has further accelerated the countdown and virtually zeroed the time for extra exchange of useless pleasantries.
Why does it happen as it does?
The existence of our country in a protracted and now already very dangerous geopolitical uncertainty is a result of more complex events and processes in the post-Soviet and post-Cold War period. Today, this topic has already been actively and impartially discussed in Western studies, providing a unique opportunity for interested readers to enhance their mindset.
Thus, the situation that resulted from the recent Russian demarche is not a reverberation of either current moment or of previous year or two. It is an indirect effect of the abovementioned deficit in practical Western politics towards post-Soviet countries in the so called “buffer zone,” which Russia has exploited directly and boldly to strengthen its influence on countries of that zone. Using not only covert but also overt forms of aggression, it has erected actual barriers to the West preventing it from freely entering Russia’s neighborhood, while by taking the current demarche, it tries to obtain a formal consent from the West on legalizing those barriers as “red lines.”
The explanation of the Russian approach does not offer the Georgian audience anything new. The only thing that changes from one demarche to another is the scale of the approach, actors and concrete factual circumstances of covert or overt aggression. However, compared to any previous case, the foreign-military line pursued by Russia since last November is unprecedented by the scale of intent and far-reaching implications of the set objective: Russia demands the consent of the West on the recognition of Russian version of Monroe Doctrine in the post-Soviet space. It demands, not requests.
Possible scenarios of further developments are not a topic of this paper; instead, we want to draw your attention to several of those aspects that brought us and our partners to the current crisis. The key question now, in my opinion, is: What has our joint integration project “done so wrong” that must be necessarily and quickly rectified in order to escape a more severe and damaging consequence for the project?
Two sides of the same coin: as always
Thus, neither history nor practice tells us anything new about Russia’s “political taste” and way of action. Consequently, it is more interesting to analyze Western elements of equation which has been finally exposed as a result of the recent demarche.
The use of word “equation” is not incidental because I would compare the Western-Russian interaction in the so-called “buffer” neighborhood to a “seesaw” type equation. It is this strange equation that largely causes that dissatisfying uncertainty where Georgia and the West, against specific attention, supporting statements and declarations of concerns from the West, have been moving in parallel with the formal Rubicon of Georgian-Western integration for many years now but have not been able to cross that Rubicon yet.
It seems that Moscow is not very concerned about such “parallelism” between us and the Western partners; this tolerance by Moscow may be also explained by the following: in the conditions of politics that is constantly deficient for achieving the abovementioned principled and tangible result, Russia expects (expected?) that statements of the West about full and not partial integration with the West will lose a reputational power, while Georgia and other countries that pursue a pro-Western course will get tired of doing never-ending homework for integration. That will make it easier to absorb Russia’s bordering countries into the unrecognized-by-the-West “sphere of influence” of Moscow. The current demarche has added yet another puzzle to this unfavorable-for-us equation: Does Russia think that the time has come for a decisive phase in the process of discreditation of the West and fatigue with the West in Georgian, Ukrainian or other societies? This totally non-rhetorical question requires a practical answer from the West, even more so, today and now. Although it might seem strange, the Russian demarche may have unintentionally, by giving such answer, only accelerated the issue of Georgia and other similar countries stuck in geopolitical uncertainty. If we agree that it has accelerated, it now becomes interesting as to how and with what result.
Impossibility to stay longer in a “comfort zone”
Separation of impressive speech and politically effective action has become an ailment of our time and political culture (or lack of culture). In the past few decades, this ailment which is called real politics but in colloquial language “trading,” has gained ground in the field of international relations. We should get used to such transformation of global politics, adjust to it and confront it with our own, national political-diplomatic antidote. We would advise those in the Georgian society who still do not admit it to step aside and clear the way for those who have already realized that universal idealism has been replaced by conjunctural pragmatism, while the politics of values has cleared the way for the geopolitics of influences and interests, even more so, much more openly and unabashedly than ever before.
Such description of the current international arena is, by the way, a direct result of changes that have taken place in Western politics since the first decade of the 2000s, while a number of leaders of the 21st century may claim the co-authorship of the rules of the game.
A pressing issue for Georgia now is a speedy transformation of a lukewarm activity of the West into a proactive one. Russia’s demarche and its far-reaching implications virtually eliminate a possibility for our partners to continue staying in a “comfort zone” in post-Soviet space. The West – as we have historically known it and accepted by publicly declaring it as a modern Georgian civilizational choice in the 1990s – must take a principled decision now. In particular, it must decide whether it continues only making supportive, at this stage already out of context statements and declarations, providing targeted financial injections and relatively limited programs for strengthening our defense capacity or turns around this rather dull, not-oriented-on-tangible-result process to save our country from falling into a geopolitical abyss. Keeping the Georgia issue “hanging” for various reasons, leaving it untouched because of influence of actual “red lines,” giving one and the same excuses for not taking “risky” decisions, etc., make the West an involuntary accomplice in the Russian scenario. This might explain the Kremlin’s moderate tolerance of pro-Western initiatives as well as Western influence in Russia’s neighborhood until a dividing line critical to Russia’s “vital interests” is not crossed. It should be noted, however, that by its recent demarch, Russia has already crossed this line. This, in turn, will now force the West, unexpectedly for it or at an inconvenient for it time, to drag itself out of geopolitical lethargy and take a principled position in relation to Georgia and even more so, demonstrate that by deeds because the expression of support through “impressive words” or “targeted programs” will, leaving aside unpleasant historical parallels, be assessed as, at least, hypocritical flirtation; even more, a historical opportunity to strengthen its position in the region for the West and a full realization of its choice for Georgia, will be reduced to future abstraction.
A Need to be said
We will refrain from more specific recommendations or sound advice and would also ask others to refrain from boldly giving any either. Taking about security, regional challenges and international positioning of our country is such a responsible action that it may take place only in such a discursive regime that is free from taboos and restrictions as well as benign “exclusivity” and is oriented on persuading or dissuading by reasoning and discussion. It is also necessary to conduct discussion of such sensitive topic (without infringing permissible openness and public interest) without the involvement of media. This will only benefit the quality of discussion and improve the qualification of discussants.
The above few reservations serve the aim to free us from restraining ourselves to express opinions and to argue.
Let’s start with the fact that the extraordinary geopolitical order around our country requires communication with our partners and stakeholders in an extraordinary regime. We must know what they want! They must know what we want! We must know what we expect and demand from one another! Such communication allows not to mince words and this may be even inevitable. Without a direct, comprehensive, sometimes uncompromised or reasonably compromised exchange of opinions it is impossible to act in a manner that is pragmatic, consistent and tailored to national interests.
In conversation with its partners, Georgia must necessarily establish a practice of receiving direct answers to direct questions: how and in what timeframe, in particular, is the West ready to formally complete the process of integration with us? Does it face an objectively obstructing barrier? Is it able to overcome it and what are we required to do for that?
These and other questions can, of course, be further elaborated. The key is not to shy away from raising those questions and receiving answers to them – one cannot imagine a true partnership otherwise.
Along with direct communication means it is necessary to employ all channels, that are available and have not been used so far, at every level – be it personal, quasi-institutional or any other. That is how a modern “transactional” politics is, unfortunately (?), done; thus, less “traditionalism” in approaches and more skilled improvisation for the aim of national security!
Among numerous noteworthy aspects there is one in modern relationship, which sounds in the following way: to be a player, you have to be a payer. In short, the meaning of this phrase is that a necessary balance in relationship can only be achieved by reciprocity. Thus, knowing what we can give, we should also know what they can give to us – what are the resources and willingness for that. Otherwise, it will be difficult to make a result-oriented advancement in any relationship.
Escalation or de-escalation?
By the time of finishing this paper, both possibilities are theoretically equal. Clearly, if we apply conscientious diplomatic principles (which will not cite a further escalation as an excuse and threaten with “thwarting negotiations”), the crisis can be overcome through reasonable mutual compromise. It is also a fact that concrete parameters of possible resolution of the crisis are unknown for the moment, but the US State Department has already outlined some of them.
In any case, the Western world and especially, the United States as well as the Russian Federation must be driven by two motives for negotiations. One is a threat of kinetic confrontation which in case of degrading, intentionally or unintentionally, into a nuclear conflict will automatically exclude winners and losers. Another is that a disagreement between Americans and Russians will further strengthen China’s global influence, which is not in either a declared interest of Washington or undeclared interest of Moscow.
It is equally important to note that in the relations with Russia, the West will have to recall the experience of the Cold War: the created situation and its possible development does not, unfortunately, leave any other option. Furthermore, to better match own capacities with desires, the Western partners will have to take into account two very important factors regarding Russia. One is a “merger” of European economic structure with that of Russia as well as the influence of Russian money on Western political and business circles. It will not be easy to loosen this interdependence, but without a proper regulation of this issue the West will find it difficult to improve a geopolitical weather.
We would like to add yet another opinion to the topicality of this factor. For example, in talks by the West with Georgia (as well as with Ukraine) about so-called de facto Russian veto, we must take into account one very important circumstance. In particular, by submitting the Western political and business processes to Russian economic influence, does the West itself involuntarily facilitate the effectiveness of Russian de facto veto? Could it be that the strengthening of Moscow’s decisive vote with regard to its neighborhood has been facilitated, inter alia, by a fact that the freedom of decision making by the West has been significantly restricted as a result of the abovementioned “merger”?
Another factor, which is rather peculiar and serious, is Russia’s “asymmetric advantage” vis-a-vis the West – to achieve its goal, Russia does not basically and traditionally spare its own human, military or civil resources.
In short, the key actors of the demarche discussed here and along with them, our country, have entered a new and very dangerous phase of geopolitical game. The entry into this phase has further complicated objectives of the Georgian state. The load of several most principled challenges faced by us has been increased by yet another, very weighty challenge: the challenge to succeed that the issues related to the fate of Georgia are not decided without our involvement. Under current conditions, this is an extremely difficult task.
It must also be said say that if it is possible today to speak about even a tiny positive effect produced by the Russian demarche, it is precisely the triggering of discussions on rather uncomfortable but extremely principled questions raised in this very paper. The closer the culmination of events approaches, the higher the topicality of these issues.