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Georgians See Parallels With Russia-Ukraine Conflict
For many Georgians, the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, particularly Moscow’s speedy annexation of Crimea, has alarming parallels with their own situation. After all, Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in August 2008, after which Moscow swiftly recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as separate states, dismissing Tbilisi’s claims to sovereignty.
“What happened in Crimea is not very surprising for Georgians, because we already had something similar in 2008,” Alexander Rondeli, head of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, told IWPR. “And this is part of the same foreign policy, same security policy of Russia – to expand, and to show the West that they are as important players as the West.”
Thomas de Waal, a South Caucasus expert with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington DC, argues that the two situations are not wholly comparable.
“The difference in 2008 is that there were genuine indigenous conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia going back to the early 1990s. They’d already de facto for many years broken away from Tbilisi’s rule,” he said. “In Crimea, we see basically an incredibly quiet place with no dispute, no conflicts, no provocation on the side of the Ukrainians.”
However exact the analogies, Rondeli argues that Georgia is right to feel threatened by Russia.
“The biggest tragedy, the biggest problem for any small country is to be a neighbour of a great power, especially if this great power is the small country’s former master,” he said. “And I think the greatest tragedy of anyone would be to be a neighbour of Russia, which is not the most civilised political player in the world. It’s a polar bear which believes that whatever it does… is right.”
Helen Khoshtaria, founder of the non-partisan think tank Georgia’s Reform Associates believes Russia has become “more and more aggressive”, so that it is now prepared to confront the West head on, ignore international law, and annex foreign territory.
She says that for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, developments in Ukraine are a “game-changer” for previously-accepted views of sovereignty and statehood. Now Russia is “aggressively dragging” countries like Armenia into its Customs Union.
“There is no middle ground there. Either you are on the side of the Soviet Union or you are not,” Khoshtaria said.
“What Russia is challenging is not Abkhazia or South Ossetia; it’s not Georgia. It’s European values, European principles and European order,” she continued. “And of course, the only solution to [Georgia’s] security problems is becoming a member of the Western family of NATO and EU, and just going away from the Soviet Union and Russian influence.
Heather Yundt produced this edition of Behind the Headlines, a radio programme made by IWPR Georgia.
The programme is part of IWPR’s Building Bridges/Building Capacity in the South Caucasus programme, funded by the Norwegian foreign ministry. The contents of the programme do not reflect the views of the funder.
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