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Georgia’s foreign affairs highlights in 2009

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, December 29
Foreign affairs in Georgia in 2009 were pretty complicated. It is rather difficult to identify a particular highlight. It would be more appropriate to consider foreign affairs as a whole, from January to December.

Of course the major feature was the impact of the 2008 Russian aggression. The expectation of a further Russian assault hung over Georgia all year. The outcome of the EU fact finding (Tagliavini) Commission into the causes of the 2008 war was more positively anticipated, as was further and more substantial support from the West over the deoccupation of the breakaway regions. However 2009 became a year of frustration and disappointment in foreign affairs. The world seems not to have enough strength to establish justice and force Russia to withdraw its occupation forces from Georgia, which has now to hope for a longer term weakening of Moscow, the collapse of the Russian Empire and democratic changes in The Kremlin. All these things are feasible, but Georgia can do nothing but wait for them to happen of their own volition one day, not being able to restore justice on its own.

It has become obvious that The Kremlin is not going to fulfill the Sarkozy-Medvedev ceasefire agreement paragraphs it doesn't like. Analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili suggests that the West gives only lip service to the notion that this agreement must be followed. Everyone in Georgia, politicians and public, has prayed for the West to move from making pointless demands to taking serious sanctions against Russia. However the West has decided that it is not worth spoiling relations with Russia for the sake of Georgia. It has been stated at many levels that Georgia remains a subject of disagreement between Russia and the West but this will not prevent the West establishing dialogue with The Kremlin. This means that the West has accepted the results of the aggression in practical terms, regardless of what it might say to the contrary. Moreover at the last NATO summit Georgia was advised to start a dialogue with Moscow, as this could be a condition for Georgia being accepted into NATO, despite the fact that at the Bucharest summit Georgia was told that it would join NATO one day without any dialogue with Moscow being demanded.

As expected the Geneva talks on post-conflict resolution also became a dead end. Georgia consistently demanded that Russia withdraw its troops from the occupied territories and renounce its recognition of the separatist regions, while Moscow sought to persuade different countries to recognise its puppet regimes by any means possible, including blackmail, bribery and false promises. So far three countries, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru, have recognised the separatist regimes. Georgians mock those countries for this, however analysts advise officials to take a more serious attitude towards these and other possible recognisers and take preventative measures.

In 2009 Georgia finally withdrew from the CIS, all procedures having been completed. This body is barely breathing and Russia is desperately trying to reanimate it. Recently Russia established a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan to try to create a reunified economic space in the CIS countries, but with many other options than Russia now available this project is not likely to get very far.

In 2009 Georgia took the very serious and important step of getting involved in the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan by sending its troops there. This however created controversy domestically. On the one hand Georgia’s participation in this NATO operation is very important from the point of view of preserving Georgia’s statehood and its plan to join NATO and giving more experience to its soldiers but it also creates some rather serious risks. We should remember that Al-Qaeda has already mentioned Georgia's decision to send troops to Afghanistan in one of its televised addresses.

There was not that much foreign affairs activity in Georgia this year because the domestic affairs were so difficult, but overall the administration managed to maintain its international position and attract in-principle support from most countries. However Georgia's foreign policy orientation remains an important and divisive issue. The general public is rather frustrated with the West due to its expressions of concern about Russian aggression not being followed up by action. Some think that relying on Western support alone was a very naive step for the Georgian leadership to take, others however think that Western support will increase and become more substantial if Georgia takes more serious steps towards democracy.

In 2010 the same factors will come into play but one important issue will add serious flavour to Georgia’s foreign relations - the forthcoming local elections. Their results and the way they are conducted will considerably determine the further development of relations between Georgia and both the West and Russia.