In early-September, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream political coalition finally made its election manifesto public. The Georgian Dream political manifesto conveys a foreign policy vision as eclectic as the Georgian Dream force itself. The manifesto reaffirms the declared support of the Georgian Dream political coalition for Euro-Atlantic integration – a position clearly incongruent with statements of Georgian Dream candidates who actively oppose Georgia’s NATO aspiration, openly demonize the West and are overtly anti-American.
Georgian Dream single-seat candidate Soso Jachvliani is among those disdainful of Georgia’s close relations with the United States and any NATO aspiration. In an interview with the Georgia & World edition in August, Jachvliani asserted: “Let’s take now the United States. We are told that it is our friend, aren’t we? What has that so-called friendship given us? First, we were shouting out ‘NATO’ like a mantra and they waved their hands. Then, the war broke out; some 300,000 people were left homeless; one fifth of the territory was lost; Russia turned into our enemy and, finally, we have been left with nothing else but the authoritarian regime which does not want to leave by any means. Now I am asking you, after all this disaster, can a person with common sense support that course and, in general, that policy?!” In the view of Jachvliani, “[l]icking the boots of Americans during the past twenty years has brought about the ruin and demise of Georgia.”
Gogi Topadze also believes that Georgia has been “ruined” by its aspiration toward NATO. He and other members of the Georgian Dream political coalition have been vehemently against Georgia’s NATO integration for years. For example, Gubaz Sanikidze and his National Forum party members declared as early as 2007 that Georgia’s NATO aspiration is tantamount to treason and, if realized, would disintegrate the country into zones of influence.
Today, Gogi Topadze and Gubaz Sanikidze are among the top ten candidates on the Georgian Dream election list. So is Manana Kobakhidze, the Georgian Dream political party chairperson who considers Western tolerance of religious minorities to be antithetical to Georgian values.
In an interview last year with the Sakinformi online edition, Manana Kobakhidze claimed that the United States sees Orthodox Christianity as an impediment to the country’s development and criticized the Georgian government for trying to win the heart of the USA by defending the rights of minorities. In that same interview, Kobakhidze criticized European policies as well: “European countries consider everyone as ordinary equal members of the society. It is difficult for us to accept that because such an attitude runs counter to the Orthodox moral.”
Parallel with all this anti-Western rhetoric, the Georgian Dream steers clear of any criticism of Russia and even blames the Russian occupation of Georgia on Georgia itself. The coalition’s political manifesto dates Russian occupation only as far back as the August 2008 war and describes the current Georgia government as an aggressor which mistakenly counted on sufficient support from the West to shield the occupied territories from Russia.
Because Bidzina Ivanishvili does not consider Russia to be an impediment to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, he fails to offer any proposal for overcoming what most Georgians definitely do see as an impediment. Even more, Ivanishvili considers Georgia to be an impediment – in relations between Russia and the West. His coalition’s political manifesto declares that the “factor of Georgia must no longer be on the list of controversial issues between the West and Georgia,” which could only mean the refusal to join NATO.
The Georgian Dream vision of conflict settlement implies creation of conditions favorable for Russia. The political coalition believes that, in accordance with past practice, negotiations must be held with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parties to the conflict. That vision effectively endorses Russia’s long-held position that it is not a party to the conflict. For years, Russia has manipulatively presented the situation in the occupied territories as ethnic conflicts and itself as a mediator. Until 2003, the Georgian government acted within that narrative and achieved nothing as a result. After the Rose Revolution, the new government directed its efforts toward revealing Russia as the real party to the conflict, one which has blocked any progress toward conflict settlement.
International acknowledgment of Russia’s “occupation” of the two Georgian territories leaves no question that responsibility for whatever happens in those regions lies with Russia. Non-recognition of the self-proclaimed “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the entire free world has exposed Russia as both the aggressor and the real party to the conflict. A prime diplomatic objective for Russia is to regain its status as mediator in order to continue its occupation of those territories and to regain its own prestige to some extent. Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parties to the conflict would again free Russia to use its Abkhaz and South Ossetian proxies to block any headway and to avoid any responsibility.
At present, a dialogue between Russia and Georgia is being held in the format of Geneva talks with the key issue being de-occupation. The Abkhaz and South Ossetian regimes are engaged in those talks as well, but they do not have the status of independent parties.
A key topic on which the parties at the Geneva talks largely disagree is the security issue. The Russian side is demanding that Georgia sign an agreement with the de facto governments of the two occupied regions on the non-use of force. Moreover, Russia claims that a post-conflict situation already exists and that Georgia must now recognize the regions as independent states – a position with which Georgia, naturally, disagrees. Georgia refuses to sign any agreement with the occupying regimes which would legitimize their claims of independence and thereby erect a Russian façade on Georgian territory. The Georgian Dream political manifesto nonetheless advocates that the Georgian side respond constructively to the proposal on security guarantees and be ready to compromise.
In the years before the August 2008 war, Russia employed tactics aimed at forcing Georgia to sign an agreement with the Tskhinvali and Sokhumi regimes on the non-use of force, even though several documents of that kind actually existed and were already signed by all parties.
Since the August 2008 war, Georgia unilaterally pledged not to use force and, along with the European Union and NATO, has demanded reciprocity from Russia. The Georgian Dream manifesto touches on this issue, but says that the relationship with Russia must not be confrontational and that Russia’s non-use of force should be guaranteed by its involvement in negotiations rather than by any unilateral statement. Exactly which negotiations the Georgian Dream wishes to involve Russia in is unclear. It is equally unclear why the Georgian Dream coalition believes that Russia should not be required to pledge the non-use of force, especially considering international consensus that such a pledge is necessary.
One of the demands at the Geneva talks is access of international missions to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The access of European Union monitors to the occupied territories is envisaged in the ceasefire agreement signed by Russia and Georgia in August 2008. Despite numerous demands, Russia continues to ignore the obligations it assumed under that agreement and refuses to allow EU monitors into those territories. At present, no international representation – military, police or any other monitoring – exists in the occupied territories. Only Russia and no one else can act as a decision-maker and settle that situation.
Recognizing occupational regimes as parties to conflicts would mean cancellation of the Geneva format in that form because it started operating after the August war. Yet, the Geneva format represents the most favorable of those which have existed throughout the history of the conflict. As Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze tells Tabula, any recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as parties would mean a return to the past when Russia was viewed in the international arena not as the problem but as a solution to the problem.
All in all, the foreign policy strategy proposed by the Georgian Dream coalition would deprive Georgia of those trump cards which it holds today both in Euro-Atlantic integration and de-occupation of Georgian territories.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 113, published 10 September 2012.