In one of his speeches Vladimir Putin described the disintegration of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest catastrophes. An imperial paradigm lay behind that comment – something that has been characteristic of the Russian state for centuries. Putin is no exception. His aim is to create a new empire and he has been taking very targeted steps towards that end. In his last annual speech given in the capacity of prime minister, which he delivered to the parliament of Russia in April 2011, Putin declared: “The creation of the Customs Union and a common economic space is, I believe, the most important geopolitical and integration event in the post-Soviet space since the break-up of the Soviet Union.” To achieve this end, Putin needed to prevent NATO from entering the post-Soviet space, with the case of the Baltic States being regarded as the biggest problem to date. Yet another direction of NATO expansion came from Georgia. Russia thus took its first bold step in the form of the August 2008 war against Georgia, and Putin’s attempt to stop Georgia’s NATO integration brought about the desired result. The reaction from the West to Russia’s aggression was not adequate. In that geopolitical battle with the West, Putin actually achieved his aim. Today, the world faces two options: either to return to the epoch of spheres of influence, which began after World War II, or to continue to live in the new world order.
Putin announced that a new Eurasian Union will be created in 2015. Putin is in a hurry and there are several reasons behind that. At a time when the European Union is busy dealing with its economic problems, the US has to fulfill its obligations in the Near East, Iraq and Afghanistan, and China is focused on its internal transformation, Putin wants to impose the idea of the Eurasian Union on post-Soviet countries. This will guarantee that Russia becomes a regional center, a superpower, once again. Although this might not restore the might of the Soviet Union, Russia will be a power to take into account in the Eurasian continental landmass, along with the EU and China.
The developments in Ukraine – the annexation and further absorption of Crimea by Russia and a very tense situation in eastern Ukraine – have endangered not only Ukraine, but also Georgia, Moldova and the security of the EU itself. The August 2008 war represents a boundary that was overstepped – a Rubicon that Russia managed to cross without being held to account. Alongside the subsequent passivity of the West, that move enabled Russia to undertake similar actions in Ukraine today.
After that war, Putin started preparing for the creation of a new empire. The first signs of the world order and international legal space being violated, as is now seen in Ukraine, were revealed after 2008. Russia is taking the world back and is imposing a future in which one subject of international law will be able to annex the territories of another subject and confine those territories within its state. Russia also breaches all international treaties. For example, under one such international treaty Russia assumed an obligation to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but Russia nonetheless annexed Crimea. Russia has actually demonstrated to the entire world that no international agreement may be signed with it – such agreements have no power and are mere sheets of paper. Russia’s attempts to impose its “law” on the rest of the world endanger the world order and international peace. This also involves Georgia. Alongside Ukraine, Georgia has been assigned a special role in the architecture of the new empire.
Russia perceives the integration processes in Georgia and Ukraine – striving to join NATO and the signing of Association Agreement – as violations of its borders. It does not view post-Soviet countries as being beyond its borders. Its imperial paradigm envisages the borders of the Russian Empire, which includes Poland and the Baltic States too. Today, international security experiences the same type of pressure from Russia that it experienced from the imperial ambitions of fascist Germany in the late 1930s. After WWII, Russia failed to deconstruct the empire in itself. Its reasoning has remained focused on the very same mythology that the Russian emperors entertained. It is this mythological reasoning that represents a threat to Georgia.
The precedent that Russia set in relation to Ukraine is very likely to also be applied against Georgia. In particular, it may hold referendums in so-called South Ossetia and North Ossetia and unite these “two Ossetias” into one within the borders of the Russian Federation. It will call this the restoration of historical justice and the fulfillment of a centuries-old dream for an Ossetian nation.
This is not the only threat that Georgia faces. As the date for Georgia signing the Association Agreement with the EU approaches, the threats will intensify. Therefore, the objective of the Georgian government is to keep Georgia’s security closely tied to the world security system; to have Georgia considered in the very same context that Ukraine’s security is considered in. Even though our government might still believe that Russian imperial ambitions arose as a result of Georgia’s former president having irritated Putin, the example of Ukraine has shown the entire world, which had skeptical attitudes, that Russia advances on, acts upon and breaches the world security system. This country takes heed of only its own geopolitical interests. One of the big problems for Georgia is that the Georgian government has an infantile approach towards Russian politics. One may say that since coming to power their vision has not broadened at all. While in opposition they blamed the 2008 war on the former government; after coming to power they have failed to realize that Russia’s geopolitical interests are not confined to the realm of irritation/non-irritation. Russia’s interests stand far above the personal subjective attitudes that politicians have towards one another. Analogous attitudes towards Russia were characteristic for our politicians in the 1990s and we think it is high time for Georgian politics to break free from this infantilism. It is such infantilism that prevents Georgia from standing up to Russian aggression, which, leaving aside the events of 2008, is today on show in Ukraine. Events are unfolding at such a fast pace that by the time this article has been published, Russia may have already intervened in eastern Ukraine. The events in Ukraine have proved once again that there are no obstacles on Russia’s path towards the creation of the Eurasian Union and that Russia opposes the entire developed world.
At a time when the West has started applying serious sanctions against Russia, suspended Russia’s right to vote in the Council of Europe, and expelled it from G8, the Georgian government’s policy of so-called “sorting out” relations with Russia does not fit into any context. Moreover, the statements and actions of representatives of the Georgian government are completely out of touch with reality. For example, Interior Minister Aleksandre Chikaidze declared that “one cannot sense any threat from Russia,” whilst Foreign Affairs Minister Maia Panjikidze’s was optimistic that “Russia seems to be prepared to put an end to provocations along the so-called borders.” Just recently, Michael Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Russia is moving some of its most advanced equipment into South Ossetia, which may result in Russia invading the unoccupied territory of Georgia and creating a land bridge to Armenia and Iran. With this step, Russia will impose full control over Georgia and isolate its domestic and foreign policy. The total silence of the Georgian government in response to the statement by Michael Rogers, the above quoted statement of the interior minister and the optimistic attitude of the foreign minister lead us to assume that the Georgian government is out of step with current international political discourse. This is what endangers our security.
One should also note the very un-transparent process of the meetings between the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin. I think public interest towards this process must be increased so as to avoid turning these private meetings into backstage negotiations between the top authorities of Georgia and Russia on such topics that will damage Georgia’s interests. This assumption is based on a recent increase in the activities of the supporters of the Eurasian Union in Georgia, who openly hold rallies and preach an ideology that conflicts with Georgia’s declared course towards European integration, and on the absence of any reaction to these actions from the Georgian government – quite the opposite has been seen, these collaborationist forces hold their actions and various meetings in the presence of the police. Georgia well remembers the provisions of an agreement signed with Russia on 7 May 1920 that enabled the collaborationist forces of Russia to operate freely in Georgia. Maintaining that these forces are small and cannot influence internal political life is very wrong. Collaborationist forces did not influence domestic political life in 1920, but they proved strong enough to stage various provocations that ultimately led to the occupation and annexation of Georgia.
The internal political situation is yet another problem. Here one can clearly see the government’s political persecution of representatives of the former government. The physical attack of an opposition MP; bringing charges against another opposition MP; the various activities of the prosecution service comprising the bulk of the daily news agenda; the prosecutor’s office summoning the former president, former National Security Council Secretary, former Tbilisi Mayor, and incumbent self-government administrators for questioning; the statements of top authorities – of the prime minister, government ministers, high parliamentary officials – full of threats and warnings against the opposition and former government representatives – these all indicate ongoing intimidation, persecution and detention of the main opposition force through the fabrication of various cases. This process very much resembles 2010 in Ukraine – the initial period of President Viktor Yanukovych’s term in office when he started retaliation against former officials and incarcerated former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on fabricated charges.
Against the backdrop of existing external challenges, and given that the external security of Georgia is weak, these processes make Georgia even more vulnerable. Therefore, it is now time for the government to ensure that the interests of the country are defended and that the country is maintained in a context that will both spare Georgia from further Russian aggression and keep it in maximally close contact with its Western partners.