Q&A: Georgia’s Post-War Trajectory

To reflect on the 10 year anniversary of the Russo-Georgian war, we continue asking:

Ten years after the war, what would you say was its impact on Georgia’s trajectory?

This time, our respondents are four Georgian professors – Ghia Nodia, Tornike Sharashenidze, Eka Akobia and Kornely Kakachia.

Ghia Nodia, director of the International School of Caucasus Studies at Ilia Chavchavadze State University and head of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development:

The war has mainly influenced Georgia’s approach towards the problem of separatist territories. Before the war, there existed an imperative for any government to prioritize measures aimed at resolving the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was an obvious mistake of Mikheil Saakashvili to promise the solution within his term in office; however, any ambitious political leader was expected to have some result-oriented plan for conflict resolution. After the war and especially after the Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, it became clear that these territories are now effectively Russian and unless something dramatic happens, Russia is not going to reverse its decision. Therefore, while Georgia cannot give up on its territories, it cannot do much to regain them either. “Strategic patience” became a new normal: the Georgian public no longer expects its government to change anything in this regard. On this point, differences between policies of Saakashvili after 2008 and those of the Georgian Dream are purely rhetorical.

Secondly, a taboo was broken with regards to openly pro-Russian political stance. New political parties, NGOs and media organizations emerged arguing that Georgia’s traditional pro-western policies are counterproductive and Georgia should seek accommodation with Russia, mainly by giving up on its ambitions of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. This new line did not succeed to change Georgia’s political direction but did have some impact. While in the wake of the war Saakashvili did not appear to be politically hurt, some part of the political elite and the public still blamed him for “provoking Russia” by reckless behavior, and this helped Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream to present themselves as an alternative force who could find a new modus vivendi with Russia. This played a role in their electoral victory in 2012.

Tornike Sharashenidze, head of the MA program in International Affairs at Georgian Institute for Public Affairs:

This had a very negative impact for Georgia’s development path. It has seriously impeded our integration into NATO and the occupation has been hanging as a sword of Damocles above our heads. The Russian military base is stationed 40 kilometers away from the country’s capital and this of course is a serious challenge for our security. This is the biggest problem, which causes other problems to emerge. The occupation hinders our development and our options. It limits our abilities to maneuver and frightens many partners in NATO. They regard our integration prospects more skeptically than before the war and this gives the Russians an enormous advantage; when there is Russian army stationed in Georgia, this sends a very serious, very negative signal to our partners.

Eka Akobia, Dean of the Caucasus School of Governance, Caucasus University:

The Russo-Georgian war in 2008 was a culmination of a chain of tragic events that led to the occupation of Georgia’s two inseparable provinces – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. [Ten years after the war], we have hundreds of thousands of refugees and forcefully displaced persons, we are spending enormous resources (both material and diplomatic) to address the consequences of war and we are deprived of the ability to pursue reconciliation between the divided communities. Moreover, the occupation has increasingly been transforming into annexation, as a result of which people-to-people contacts have been entirely cut; residents of the occupied regions, together with restrictions on freedom of movement, are subjected to heavy propaganda, the sole purpose of which is to isolate these regions from Georgia and the western world.

The impediment to our development is out of our hands – this is immaturity of our big northern neighbor and the inability of the Russian state to become a full-fledged member of European states, the prerequisite for which is to share the European values. These values are best outlined in the Helsinki Final Act and Russia has been violating majority of its principles. Moscow does not respect and continues violating sovereign borders of other nations. It thinks small countries have no right to have a free choice, and this is a very anachronistic and illegal policy. Let’s imagine if every big state thought the same way; small countries would not exist at all. In that respect, Russia is not only the impediment of Georgia’s development, but a country that undermines legal and normative order in the world, which undoubtedly is harmful for the world order and world peace as a whole.

In these circumstances, the solution for us is to be more successful and more effective in running our country. We have to pursue European values and democracy, we have to develop internal democracy and good governance, we have to protect human rights and strengthen rule of law, and what is most important – we have to create a better education system. Every single citizen has to be involved in the process. We will manage to protect the country from wars and other subversions only in this case.

Kornely Kakachia, professor of political science at Tbilisi State University and director of Tbilisi-based Georgian Institute of Politics:

After the august war, everyone in Georgia understood that a certain period was over: if before, some part of the society had illusions on co-existence with the Russian Federation, thought Moscow would not take such steps against Georgia and expected that the two states could have normal relations, the myth was broken after the war.

Since then, Georgia’s integration with the west became irreversible, including with NATO and the European Union. Georgia was pursuing the Euro-Atlantic agenda well before the war, but the process became irreversible only after that and it will require some time before it reaches its logical end.

Of course, the war hindered the country’s development and its integration with NATO and the European Union, but at the same time, to a certain degree Georgia’s integration with the EU has accelerated, since the European Union was forced to react to the aggression. The Eastern Partnership was launched exactly after the war, and one of the reasons for initiating the project was the Russo-Georgian war and Russia’s attempts to isolate Georgia.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)