The presidential candidate of the Georgian Dream coalition, Giorgi Margvelashvili, has reportedly branded himself a "plasticine man." By this, Mr. Margvelashvili seems to have wanted to create the impression that he can adapt to different circumstances and people. Critics, however, see in him a lack of personal vision and an inclination to adjust to others' initiatives and tastes. On the last Sunday of October we will learn how voters will respond to the "plasticine" image of the presidential candidate. Much earlier than that, though, we have already witnessed how damaging the application of a "plasticine" principle in foreign policy might be.
Ambiguity, uncertainty, controversy, and volatility have become the key traits of Georgian foreign policy over the last 12 months. One can easily become convinced of the accuracy of this conclusion if we look at the three main directions of the country's foreign policy: the attitude towards Russia, the participation in regional transit projects, and the position towards Russia's "integrational" projects and their impact on Georgia's European integration.
Our relations with Russia are defined by the reality that in 2008 Russia carried out open military aggression against the sovereign Georgian state and has subsequently continued to illegally occupy 20 percent of Georgia's territory. When Prime Minister Ivanishvili declares that even though Russia is an occupying force, Georgia actually "started [the war in August 2008] before Russians had crossed the border," this very reality becomes eroded. There is no wonder at all that the Russian diplomacy takes advantage of this and similar statements to undermine the legal grounds for Georgia's territorial integrity. It is also known that Russia capitalizes upon yet another "plasticine" statement of Mr. Ivanishvili in which he hailed Armenia's foreign policy towards Russia and the West as something Georgia should take as an example.
Participation in regional transit projects turns Georgia into an indispensable element of the transportation and energy geography of the South Caucasus - Central Asia region. Under such conditions, however, we hear Mr. Ivanishvili say: "The Baku-Kars-Akhalkalaki rail route is a good project but we have numerous question marks regarding it." As a result, the completion of the project is being postponed for an indefinite period of time and relations with our strategic neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, have soured. Moreover, Azerbaijan is also concerned about the completely unexpected ambiguity that emerged because of suggestions about a possible resumption of the Georgian section of the Russia-Armenia railway.
Ambiguity, uncertainty, controversy, and volatility have become the key traits of Georgian foreign policy over the last 12 months.
That Russia's "integrational" projects – the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union – are the attempts to restore the sphere of Russia's influence and revive a modified empire, no longer raises any doubts in either Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States or in Europe and the USA. Nevertheless, Mr. Ivanishvili has stated: "though the European Union and NATO are our priorities, if the [accession into the] Eurasian Union is beneficial for us, why not?" The Association Agreement with Europe, on the one hand, and the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union, on the other, are mutually incompatible notions. Membership in one union rules out membership of the other. Two recent developments have helped prove the principle of that incompatibility. The European Union spelled out to Armenia that if it joins the Customs Union, as its President Sargsyan has recently declared it would, it can forget the prospects of concluding the Association Agreement with the EU. In a parallel development, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev warned Ukraine that if the country signs the Association Agreement with the EU, the doors of the Customs Union will be closed to it. The decision of Ukraine is known – it has opted for Europe. We will soon learn about the decision of Armenia.
An attempt to simultaneously reach two mutually exclusive aims is, in political vernacular, called the desire to sit on two chairs. Usually, any such attempt ends in a fall between the two chairs.
Some readers might ask: perhaps the statements of the government (rhetoric) and its actions (politics) differ from each other? Perhaps the country's foreign policy continues to steadily march in the right direction, despite the contradictory statements? Alas, this is not the case. Our diplomatic corps, as well as the cabinet ministers, members of parliament and other officials sent on visits abroad are predominantly tasked with providing explanations and interpretations of the government's vague, ambiguous and conflicting statements. The lion's share of our diplomatic resources are spent on convincing the West, which, as Mr. Ivanishvili put it, is "kept in deception" by the former government, about how necessary it is to destroy the main opposition force, the United National Movement, under the banner of the "restoration of justice."
Our American and European partners, being accustomed to Georgia's dynamic, consistent and proactive foreign policy, are sincerely puzzled to see the new Georgian government zealously destroy the positive image of its own country! If Georgia yet continues to move ahead in any of its foreign policy directions, this happens owing solely to the inertia of the proactive diplomacy of the former administration. The "plasticine foreign policy" has brought the country nothing but harm.
Small countries located on the frontlines of geopolitical confrontation always face the necessity of making strategic choices. The choices made by some are correct, whilst those made by others prove to be wrong, but the country most severely damaged is the one that fails to make any choice.
From among the former colonies of the Russian empire, Finland and the Baltic States are those that provide historical examples of making strategic choices worthy of following. Like Georgia, they regained their independence in 1917-1918 after the disintegration of the Russian Empire. As a result of three bloody wars fought with Russia in 1918, 1939-1940, and 1941-1944 Finland managed to protect its independent statehood. Even though the Baltic States repelled the Russian invasion of 1919, they were unable to resist a second one in 1940. Like Georgia, in 1991 they became free again. Today all of these four states are fully-fledged members of the European Union and three of them are also NATO members.
The foreign policy of Georgia must be based on strong and unwavering values – namely on those of European and Euro-Atlantic integration – whilst the tools and methods for the implementation of this may be flexible and diverse.
Plasticine is a good material for developing creativity and spatial reasoning in children. However, along with softness and elasticity, plasticine has weaknesses too. Exposed to sunlight, it soon fades in color. Moreover, at a low temperatures it becomes fragile and, unable to resist the cold, it breaks up and crumbles. As a building material for foreign policy, plasticine is not one that will prove useful for a neighbor of Russia.