Staunton, August 18 – Most analysts in the Russian Federation and the West have assumed that the longer Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain beyond Tbilisi’s control, the fewer chances the Georgian government will have to reverse the outcome of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.
But Zurab Dzhavakhadze, a Georgian photographer, suggests in his Ekho Moskvy blog that “time is working for Georgia” in this regard, rather than against it. And his argument, even if it is ultimately incorrect, not only helps to explain Tbilisi’s position but also highlights the factors on which future changes may depend (echo.msk.ru/blog/zazvi/703973-echo/).
The Georgian leadership, he suggests, should not expect that the US will suffer the consequences of “a sharp worsening of relations with Russia in order to return to Georgia the occupied territories” or that Europe will “awaken” and demand the withdrawal of Russian forces from these areas and the return of refugees, as the Medvedev-Sarkozy accords required.
Over the last two years, Dzhavakhadze continues, the Western countries have sent a clear message to Tbilisi: “we will help you in carrying out democratic reforms but the problem of rebuilding ties with Russia and the unification of the country must be resolved by the Georgians themselves.”
That position is hardly surprising, he says, because the US and Western Europe “prefer to be observers than to make any sharp moves which could provoke a reaction from the Kremlin,” but while comfortable for those countries, Dzhavakhadze says, “it is absolutely unacceptable for Georgia.”
Given these attitudes and the relative power position of Georgia and the Russian Federation, the Georgian blogger continues, “it would seem at first glance that the situation is truly hopeless and the occupied territories have been lost forever.” But that is not necessarily the case, he insists.
There are three possible scenarios, he suggests, under which Moscow might be forced either to cede control over the two breakaway republics or even “voluntarily transfer the administration of them to Georgia,” however implausible such an outcome might seem at the present time.
The first of these would involve “the coming to power in Russia of a democratically elected leadership for whom the chief priorities would be not the strengthening of ‘the power vertical but the building of democratic institutions, fighting corruption, carrying out economic and social reforms, and increasing the standard of living of the population.”
For such a democratic Russian government, it would be “much more important to have among its strategic allies an integral and democratic Georgia than quasi-states like ‘South Ossetia’ and Abkhazia which would continue to live on moneys provided by the Russian tax payer.”
Such a course of events, Dzhavakhadze says, “would be more favorable not only for Russia’s neighbors but also for the Russian people.” But he adds, “it is necessary to admit that the chances of such changes are approximately equal to the appearance in the Moscow River of a talking Gold Fish, if one takes into account current realities and the historic path of Russia.”
The second variant which could lead to the recovery of the territories, the Tbilisi writer says, would involve “the further worsening of the economic situation,” a development which would force Russia to turn to the West for aid, much as the Soviet Union had to and thus compel Moscow to make concessions to the West.
Those might involve in the first instance chances in Russia itself in a democratic direction, but “for the Russian leadership, the democratization of Russia would mean its inevitable political collapse” and “the Kremlin [might thus prefer] to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied territories and not interfere in the process of the re-unification of Georgia.”
The third scenario would involve “a worsening of the situation in the North Caucasus with its further separation from Russia.” The main problem in that region today, Dzhavakhadze argues, is not the continuing terrorist attacks against Russian officials but rather that “these republics already now are not connected to Russia by anything except money from the center.”
With the flight of ethnic Russians from that region, Moscow loses in two ways. On the one hand, there is no one left to promote a “pro-Russian policy.” And on the other, the non-Russian residents with the passage of time ever more strongly feel “the mental and cultural split” between themselves and the Russian center.
Under Putin, Dzhavakhadze continues, “all these problems acquired a catastrophic character.” Moscow appointed people to positions there who could not cope with the existing realities, and Moscow’s hopes of “’extinguishing’ the Caucasus fire” with a flood of money have proved baseless.
If Moscow does not change course in significant ways, the Georgian analyst says, then “the [Russian leadership] coming after Putin and his command sooner or later will be forced to separate Russia from the North Caucasus in order to construct a democratic and economically developed state and not waste money” on republics in that region.
“For the entire civilized world community and in the first instance for the Russians,” the Georgian blogger says, “the best variant would be the transformation of Russia into a free and ‘transparent’ state which would become a democratic leader on the Eurasian continent.” But the current situation does not appear to promise such a change anytime soon.
Consequently, Dzhavakhadze says, many people will be inclined to dismiss his analysis and nothing more than “Georgian propaganda.” But those who do should ask older people “whether anyone of them in 1985 could predict that five years later, the powerful USSR would collapse.” The future, he suggests, could involve equally unexpected changes.