Georgia waits out the Ukrainian crisis, trying to please everybody
Georgy Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
The Georgians have a proverb about a man who tries to cook shashlik on a wooden skewer. Proverbs with similar senses exist in various cultures (to have one's cake and eat it). That’s what the Georgian government is doing now, trying to support the Western efforts in the Ukrainian direction, carefully express solidarity with official Kiev and not to break off constructive dialogue with Moscow, which brings significant benefits to the country’s economy. Russia didn’t launch an embargo on Georgian products and offered Georgian agricultural producers extension of exports to Russia in the context of counter-sanctions against the EU. After the embargo of 2006-2012 the Georgian authorities are happy to sell their traditional export products to Russia – wine, mineral water, fruits, vegetables, fruit. And they don’t want to follow Brussels’ recommendations to restrict trade relations with Russia.
However, there are such recommendations. For example, on August 15th, the EU Council asked “partner countries” not to use the situation for occupying the European niche in the Russian market. But the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia conducted successful talks with Russian colleagues and agreed on increasing supplies. “Our exports to Russia are so small that the EU recommendations don’t touch on us,” Maya Pandzhikidze, the Georgian Foreign Minister, said, answering the question: why didn’t Georgia show solidarity with the EU, even though it signed the European association agreement?
The head of Georgian diplomacy is cunning – the point is not in volumes of supplies, but in a principled position. However, Pandzhikidze has recently stated that anti-Russian sanctions are not effective, while the parliamentary majority rejected the opposition’s suggestion to add a call to launch additional anti-Russian sanctions into the resolution on Ukraine.
The opposition, the former supporters of Mikhail Saakashvili, tried to protest, made passionate speeches, but they couldn’t convince their colleagues from Georgian Dream. The parliamentary resolution expresses “concerns about the situation in the east of Ukraine” and “support for territorial integrity.” Russia is not mentioned in the document as “an aggressor.”
On the other hand, the Georgian authorities don’t want to spoil relations with the West. They take symbolic steps. The Minister of Healthcare, David Sergienko, came to Kiev and conducted talks with his Ukrainian colleague on treatment of injured soldiers and the local population. This is the greatest thing which the current Georgian authorities can do. Many note that since the start of the events on the Maidan none of the Georgian ministers has visited Kiev. The only exception is a visit by President Margvelashvili to the inauguration of President Poroshenko. In all the rest, the government of Irakly Garibashvili continues to be careful, even though Kiev expected that at least the State Minister for European Integration would come.
The members of the Georgian government explain their position by internal political interests: the head of the Interior Ministry, Alexander Chikaidze, hints that the opposition is preparing a local Maidan in Tbilisi. However, the majority of experts think this statement is a cunning step by the authorities, which try to hide the real reason for their careful policy toward the Ukrainian crisis – they don’t want to spoil recently-normalized relations with Moscow and receive a new embargo.
Tbilisi sees that West turns out to be weaker than the Georgian political class had thought. The conclusion is one of the most important results of the Ukrainian crisis in general. Zurab Abashidze, the Premier’s envoy for normalization of relations with Russia, says that Georgia “has already launched the strictest sanctions against Russia – it broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow.” The hint is clear: neither Ukraine nor the EU has launched such “sanctions” against Russia, while President Poroshenko stated at the Minsk summit that the country would like to preserve economic relations with the Customs Union, including Russia.
And only former Georgian president Saakshvili is devoted to his radicalism. Visiting various cities of Ukraine (from Kiev to Dnepropetrovsk, from Kharkov to Kiev and so on), he calls on Ukrainians to “resist Putin” and criticizes the current Georgian leadership and the Western leaders for “a deal with Moscow at expense of Ukraine.” But his statements cannot influence the authorities’ strategy. Georgian Dream doesn’t reject European integration or its desire to join NATO, but it doesn’t pour oil on Ukrainian flames, fearing for burning its own country, when the West doesn’t know what to do with the Ukrainian crisis.