How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation”
Author: Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior Fellow of the Rondeli Foundation
Never has foreign policy been so important for ensuring the security of the Georgian state, as it is today and never have not only politicians, diplomats and experts, but the general population of the country as well, realized the importance of it.
Georgian diplomats have often confronted cynically disposed opponents, as well as their offensive attitudes and attempts to belittlement. The code of diplomatic work used to leave such unpleasant cases behind the curtain where it belonged. Today, the whole nation is insulted by the actions of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that Georgia has been trying to build partnership with its Northern neighbor for almost five years since October 2012.
A simple analysis of the situation at hand brings us to several conclusions.
First, the new Georgian foreign policy is valuable to Russia only to the extent that it is no longer facing any problems in the international relations because of Georgia. The meeting between the United States and Russian Presidents in Hamburg was a clear example of this. A multitude of issues was discussed during the two-and-a-half hour meeting, including Russian involvement in the 2016 US elections, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS and North Korea. Neither Russian, nor the US sources and no journalists in any publications, talked about Georgia as an issue on the agenda or a point of discussion during the negotiations. The fact that we are no longer among the key issues of the international order is quite clear. What is worse is that such a trend will ultimately propel our diplomacy to the periphery, with all the consequences associated with this position.
Second, the Russian government is testing the patience of the Georgian state through its policy of creeping occupation. It would appear that our government’s patience in this regard is much more flexible than the people’s, which creates an additional threat to Georgia’s stability. A question arises, whether one of the main objectives of the Kremlin’s creeping occupation policy is to undermine the stability of the Georgian state and consequently, that of the incumbent government as well.
Third, as the initiative and reigns move to the Russian hands, we serve as secondary players. This is very unfavorable positioning. The art of diplomacy is in, on the one hand expanding your room for maneuver, also limiting the room for maneuver of the opponent on the other.
In this regard, we certainly cannot boast to be very successful. Russia is no longer being pressured on the international arena because of Georgia – its room for maneuver consequently expanding. We are left one-on-one with Russia – our room for maneuver diminished. Convincing the Russians in something in a bilateral format as well as getting some results from it is much more difficult. We should also keep in mind that Russia does not particularly bother with actually upholding the agreements – examples for this being abundant in the history of our bilateral relations.
Let us attempt to imagine a situation from the realm of fantasy: Russia has stopped military action in the Eastern Ukraine, returned Crimea back to Ukraine, as well as agreeing its positions with the United States and the European Union about Syria and North Korea. Sanctions on Russia are being lifted, it returns to the G8 and becomes and fully respected member of the international community. All this happens despite the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Such a perspective does not exactly inspire enthusiasm.
Why did President Trump not pose the issue of Georgia in his conversation with the Russian colleague? Either the President did not consider it to be important enough or there was no appropriate, argumentative request voiced by the Georgian side at the highest possible level. The latter is rather difficult to imagine.
Hence, the existing situation has two explanations: either the focus of the issue put by the Georgian side was not where it was supposed to be, or our arguments did not seem very convincing to our American partners. We must prepare the Prime Minister better for such meetings, especially given the fact that a lot of resources are spent on this. This is a great luxury for Georgia in the existing economic situation and must therefore be used at its fullest.
As a result, Russia now feels much more comfortable on the occupied Georgian territories and boldly continues its provocations, primarily by the means of the creeping occupation policy.
We will have a chance of correcting our mistakes at the end of July and beginning of August, during the visit of the Vice President of the United States of America to Georgia. The configuration of the Vice President’s regional visit (Estonia, Montenegro and Georgia) is very promising and can already be considered as a diplomatic victory, taking us out of the context of the South Caucasus region and approximating us with Europe.
It is well understood that the statements supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia will be uttered during the visit – all this is very important in itself. That said it is no less important for the Vice President to specifically condemn the creeping occupation policy and, what is of utmost importance, underline that the issue of Georgia will remain on the agenda of the US-Russian negotiations. It would be good if the Georgian journalists asked a question about this during the Vice President’s press conference.
It is necessary in foreign policy to declare your goals. It is better if your goals are further supported by vision and the system of principles and values. Such universally recognized principles of diplomacy include coherence, sustainability, heredity, which, upon implementation, make the foreign policy of a country more valuable and reliable for friends, and harder to cope with for the enemies.
We can pose a serious competition to Russians in the field of diplomacy. We certainly cannot challenge them in terms of military and economic potential. As for diplomacy, a serious experience has been pooled since the declaration of independence, the system being filled with young people, who are well educated and free of the Soviet doctrine. However, what is more important, our position is further reinforced by the combined support of the norms and principles of international law, the international community and historical truth. Georgia is not waging war in the Krasnodar Oblast of Russia – it is defending its indigenous territories.
In addition to this, we can boldly use our military potential on the territories controlled by us – this is both our right as well as our obligation, especially towards those of our citizens who live near the occupation line. We have the potential and we must act freely and boldly. Without resistance, Russia will surely continue the provocative strategy of creeping occupation. We have been witnessing this for almost nine years.
It warrants a separate remark that, in the diplomatic practice, demarcation cannot be done without delimitation first, if, of course, brute force is not being used. There are several examples of this in history – such as the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviet Union in a couple of hours.
Our active diplomacy must be complemented with bold actions near the actual occupation line.
The very minimum objective for us must be to contain Russia at the de-facto occupation line as it stands today. It would be much better if this were done together with the international community, for example by effectively using the potential of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM); however, until we can achieve this, we must immediately do it through our own forces.
What must be done immediately and without any hesitation is to demonstrate the abilities of our state near the occupation line. The essential components of this would be placing the permanent security outposts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia (and not those of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia, as these are still de-jure our territories) and installing the video-surveillance systems equipped with night vision. Special effort must be focused on especially dangerous territories, such as the vicinity of the main motorway.
Parallel to this, we must create a virtual map depicting the creeping occupation, with as much detail as possible and reinforced with the legally registered testimonies of the local population. Based upon these materials, we must become more active through the usage of both bilateral as well as multilateral diplomatic formats.
We must also form a fund for stopping the creeping occupation. The businesses supported a very important program of Check in Georgia. It is highly likely that the support to this new fund will be much more active, including on the part of the ordinary citizens. The finances of the fund must be used in two main directions – supporting our citizens living near the occupation line and co-financing the actions taken by the state near the line. Among other issues, the creation of such a fund will facilitate the unification of our society in tackling the most dangerous of the challenges facing Georgia.
It is time for us to start acting. Russia has managed to create a logic of developments favorable to its interests. We will not tolerate this.
The alternative would be the status-quo, which means the lack of action and will further encourage the creeping occupation policy of the Russian Federation and deteriorate an already difficult situation.
The Russian reaction will provide us with the grounds for further analysis and planning of our actions.
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