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Will Georgia manage to overcome “territorial integrity” stalemate?

“Territorial integrity,” like a “delayed-action mine” that was put yet in Soviet time is an essential and painful issue of present-day Georgia. While Georgia’s elite is blaming Russia for stirring up ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is quite clear that Georgia’s leadership should be blamed for paving the way to disagreements with the autonomies and successfully leading them to armed conflicts. Coming in power after parliamentary elections of 2012, Georgian Dream Party is less than anyone responsible for the current situation, but it has quite limited possibilities to find a way out of it. At least, one can learn this from Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s statement.

“August 14 marks a tragic day in the recent history of our country. 25 years ago, we failed to avoid fratricidal war. The bloodshed between our Abkhaz brothers and us entailed grave consequences. Today the severity of these results is even more evident to both Georgians and Abkhazians. The history of our coexistence is exemplary and we have no right to live in such reality. An external force should not stand between us, it is harmful for us - Georgians and Abkhazians, and the future of our children. I have great hope that we will mend this grave mistake and soon, time will come when we will regain the hearts of our Abkhaz brothers and we will continue our coexistence with centuries-old love and mutual respect in a united, strong Georgia,” the prime minister said.

Internal contradictions in these statements are evident. Of course, it is hard to imagine how an exemplary co-existence could result in an armed conflict. If it were really exemplary, no external force, even a very bellicose and powerful one, could break that harmony and peace between the autonomies. Nevertheless, the prime minister declared they will try to “regain the hearts of Abkhaz brothers.” One can only guess how he is going to achieve that.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s notorious oppositional United National Movement party did its best to lead the problem into a deadlock. The party twice tried to use the problem by force. August 8 of 2008 appeared to be the point of no return. Before that moment, Russia officially recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity. After the August events and murder of Russian peacekeepers, Mikheil Saakashvili left Russia no choice but to interfere and force the Georgian leadership to peace. Later, it had to recognize autonomies as independent states.

Why did that moment become a point of no return? Because, it should be clear to everyone that Russia will not disown its actions. This is possible only after WWIII which differs from all the previous wars, since there can be no winners in it. United National Movement had not just led the country to “disastrous situation,” but substantiated the results legislatively by passing the Law “On Occupied Territories.” What did that law bring to Georgia? They sought to increase the degree of political confrontation with Russia that would grow into a military one.

So, what should Georgia rely on in case of an armed conflict with Russia? Maybe, it should hope that the rusty Russian tanks will fail and our army will be marching along the Red Square in a couple days? We have already heard about it from mad Mishiko. Maybe, we should rely on NATO? I think everyone remembers how NATO helped us in August 2008… Recall Yugoslavia, where “a bunch of” Russian troopers deployed in Pristina made the entire NATO machinery retreat. Do we want to remain a “sacrificial pawn?” We should quit making the same mistake.

Georgia’s parliamentary opposition party Alliance of Patriots of Georgia suggests an alternative path. Having six seats in the parliament, the party sent its leaders to Moscow where they met with State Duma members. They advocate for talks with Moscow, Sukhumi and Tskhinval. Ex-speaker of the Georgian parliament, leader of Democratic Movement – United Georgia Party Nino Burjanadze too believes that a dialogue with Russia is needed. Once she was in a coalition with UNM, but left power saving her reputation.

It might seem that usefulness of multi-vector policy is evident, but never in Georgia. UNM representative Nika Rurua claims that “Kremlin agents” and the ruling Georgian Dream party and its informal leader, ex-prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, had a secret plot. Leader of another opposition party Free Democrats Shalva Shavgulidze offered a bill criminalizing unsanctioned contacts of Georgian politicians and parties with Russia.

What can Georgian Dream do against that all-Western Russophobic hysteria? The government representatives cannot but see that the Bill “On Occupied Territories” harms the country both politically and economically. If applied, it may close Georgia for Russian tourists whose number has increased significantly during the recent years. The authorities hint that some clauses of the law may be revised. Perhaps, they are speaking about the fourth clause that requires access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia via Georgia only. The remaining clauses will be left unchanged and the fourth one will hardly undergo any changes either. Opposition and its leaders will not let it happen. As to Georgian Dream, it lacks political resoluteness to change anything.

Meantime, Nino Burjanadze openly slams the law saying that a political leader in a democratic state cannot be told where to travel and with whom to talk. “I will travel there when I find it necessary, I will talk to everyone I need to protect the interests of my country. Let them punish me, the future generation will assess who works for the country and who doesn’t,” she said.

Burjanadze has repeatedly proved her courage. Hopefully, Georgia will find a way out of the stalemate despite all discrepancies inside the country.

Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi), for EADaily

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