Vice President Biden in Georgia
July 21, 2009
Q1: Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Tbilisi this week to meet with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. What is the purpose of his trip?
A1: Vice President Biden’s visit to Georgia and Ukraine is intended to send two strong international signals in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s meetings in Moscow. First, that U.S. intentions to improve relations with Russia will not entail sacrificing the national interests of its new partners in Eastern Europe. The White House is making it clear that it does not accept Moscow’s premise that the world is divided into “spheres of influence” and that Russia should have predominant influence in any independent state. And second, Biden’s trip is a sign of solidarity and support for Georgia’s stability, its program of political and economic reform, and the country’s eventual territorial reintegration.
Q2: One year after the Russo-Georgian war, what are Russia’s objectives toward Tbilisi and what policies is Moscow likely to pursue?
A2: Russia’s long-term ambition is to neutralize the south Caucasus region as a gateway for Western influence in the Caspian Basin and Central Asia and to reestablish its traditional sphere of dominance. In this context, Moscow seeks to make an example of Georgia as a failed state and an unsuccessful experiment in European democracy and Western integration. Through its military assault and de facto partition of Georgia, the Kremlin also wants to demonstrate that the United States and NATO cannot provide security to any country in the region. Given these goals, the Russian authorities will continue to threaten Georgia to scare off investors and will promote instability inside the country to unseat the elected government.
Q3: What should the Georgian government be doing to ensure the country’s stability and development?
A3: By its very survival, the Georgian administration obstructs Russia’s goals. If Tbilisi resolutely pursues economic development, democratic reform, regional cooperation, and international engagement, it can become a successful Caucasian model that will help thwart Kremlin ambitions and more strongly attract Western influence. Biden’s visit underscores that Washington intends to be engaged in developing the country through the framework of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership signed earlier this year. This will include cooperation in several areas, such as the economy, trade, energy, security, and cultural exchanges.
Q4: What is the regional security situation? Can we expect other conflicts in the region?
A4: The more secure and developed Georgia becomes, the more frustrated Russia’s government is likely to grow. The Obama administration must help Georgia deter any future provocations by Moscow intended to destabilize the country. The Kremlin is also pressuring Azerbaijan to limit its supplies of natural gas for the planned Nabucco pipeline that would cross the south Caucasus and bypass Russian territory. One component of Russia’s strategy is manipulation of the Armenian-Azeri dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which enables Moscow to maintain influence in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia itself faces an explosive mix in the north Caucasus, where economic impoverishment, resentment against the federal government and its corrupt local representatives, and escalating nationalism and religious radicalism can provoke a chain reaction of separatist conflicts that may presage the eventual partition of the Russian Federation.
Janusz Bugajski is director of the New European Democracies Project and senior fellow with the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and recently returned from a trip to the Caucasus.
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