Georgia-Russia: A Challenge for American Foreign Policy | Wilson Center

Georgia-Russia: A Challenge for American Foreign Policy

"The new United States administration will find a Georgian problem on its foreign policy desk," stated Salomé Zourabichvili, Chairman of Georgia's Way Party, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Georgia. "The Russia-Georgia conflict presents a unique challenge, for it is the first incident in most recent times in which Russia stepped out of its borders to invade a country in its immediate neighborhood," she continued. Although the conflict cannot be characterized as a possible beginning of a new Cold War, according the speaker, the real war on the ground is not completely finished, as instability and daily incidents along the new administrative borders continue.

According to Zourabichvili, the primary challenge for the new American administration with regard to Georgia will be supporting the reinstatement of democracy, which she claims has been derailed since the Rose Revolution of 2003. After less than five years under Mikheil Saakashvili, Zourabichvili argued, Georgian society finds itself in a country where there is no free media, where political life is deadlocked, where the judiciary is not independent, and where private property is heavily taxed. Moreover, Zourabichvili emphasized that the outbreak of conflict with Russia could be considered a direct consequence of the Georgian parliament currently not having control over military spending or the deployment of military troops. This gap, combined with "a lack of public discussion" on the matter, precipitated the military outcome of August 2009, she argued.

How should the present situation be addressed by the new U.S. administration? "The red line over the independence of Georgia has been blurred and it should be restored," suggested Zourabichvili. Even though Russia did not manage to reestablish its exclusivity in the region, "Georgian independence needs to be reaffirmed and it should be done through Europe," with new forms of cooperation in the military and security sectors. In exchange for such reaffirmation, the Georgian government should be required to effectively deliver on its promises of democratic rule. The U.S. policy of supporting Saakashvili on the basis of personal relations needs to be re-channeled into support for democratic institutions, such as independent NGOs and free media, in particular Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and independent TV channels.

Zourabichvili concluded by stating that the war in Georgia has clearly demonstrated that the pre-existing models of security are no longer appropriate in the present international context. She put forth that a global discussion needs to take place about all the pertinent issues that have accumulated on the European security desk since the Yalta and Helsinki negotiations: energy, the missile defense shield, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the meaning of borders, and more. Democracy, Zourabichvili asserted, underpins all of these issues. "If you do not have democracy, you do not have stability, as we see from the Georgian case. Democracy is the only serious guarantee for security."