International Affairs Forum: What is the reaction in Georgia to the situation at the moment?
Mr. Vladimer Papava: It has already been a week since Georgia has been facing Russian aggression. The occupying Russian troops continue to control a number of towns and villages beyond the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and - notwithstanding the ceasefire plan having been signed by President Medvedev, - Russians keep on blasting infrastructure facilities, buildings and structures. The North Caucasians and Cossacks brought in by the Russians troops are overtly looting and committing acts of violence against the peaceful population. Despite these facts, Georgia’s armed forces and policemen strictly observe the truce signed by President Saakashvili. Thus, the agreement proposed by President Sarkozy of France is strictly observed by Georgia, while Russia violates it and thus challenges the whole world. Under the circumstances, Georgia’s population in most cases maintains calmness and valor. There are shelters set up for the internally displaced persons (IDP) in Tbilisi and other cities in Georgia. The IDPs are supplied with essential items and much contribution is being made by Georgia’s friends through sending humanitarian aid. Besides, Georgia awaits positive results that will necessarily follow the statements and decisions made by the leaders of USA, France and the whole EU, Ukraine and Turkey.
At this stage it is a key issue to have Russia act within the framework of the agreement to which President Sarkozy obtained President Medvedev’s acceptance.
It needs to be separately pointed out that President Saakashvili’s decision to withdraw from the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] is absolutely correct. The CIS is a bankrupt organization, which failed to secure prevention of the aggression against Georgia, and which could not impede Russia’s embargo against Georgia in 2006. After the Russian invasion of Georgia it would be immoral to retain membership of CIS! The economic relations with other members of CIS will be regulated through mutual agreements which were concluded a long time ago, and if such agreements are missing with some countries it is quite feasible to draft them within a year, as it takes one year according to the legal procedures to withdraw from the CIS.
IA-Forum: How do you think this will affect President Saakashvili’s domestic standing and position?
Mr. Papava: The leaders of almost of all opposition parties in Georgia made their position clear in the very first hours of Russian aggression. Given that the country is involved in a patriotic war, they express their support for the Government of Georgia. It is very important that the Kremlin knows that there are no pro-Russian political forces in Georgia and the Kremlin does not have any political support in Georgia to rely on. The future of President Saakashvili is mostly depended on how effective Western support to Georgia will be in its patriotic war against of Russia.
IA-Forum: Given Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comment that, it would be best for him to go, how do you think President Saakashvili will deal with Russia?
Mr. Papava: It is only up to the citizens of Georgia to decide through elections who will be the President of Georgia and this is clearly declared in the Constitution of Georgia. It is not Russia’s business who will be the President in Georgia. By demanding openly the change of the current political regime in Georgia, Russia directly confirmed its attempt to infringe Georgia’s sovereignty.
There are examples when the heads of the countries in conflict meet each other in various formats (e.g. the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan) and thus in this case there is no need to reinvent the wheel. A significant importance is given to the mediators (like France at present) as well.
IA-Forum: How do you think Georgia will act regarding the United States and Europe? Will resentment at a lack of commitment from the West cause any policy changes?
Mr. Papava: President Bush, though belatedly, quite clearly stated that Army-backed humanitarian aid is to be delivered to Georgia by the USA, which brought great joy to the population of Georgia. Today we can see more evidently who is the enemy or friend of Georgia. We pin our hopes on the EU to a greater extent, and which also held quite a tough position towards Russia. I strongly believe that the pro-Western inclination in Georgia will be even more reinforced.
It has to be taken into account, that Georgia is punished by Russia for its aspiration to join NATO.
The present situation in Georgia and around Georgia has shown that the post-Cold War period really was only a “Frozen Cold War” period, and Russia is promoting the establishment of a New World Order, in which Russia’s dream is to be - at least - the regional dictator. It is a fact that this Russian goal has been bankrupted, and the challenge of the West is to stop Russia’s unrealistic ambitions.
IA-Forum: What do you think Georgia can expect to happen now to South Ossetia and Abkhazia - is there a sense that they will be reclaimed from Russia?
Mr. Papava: Russia will make every effort to avoid giving up its positions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia though much will hinge upon the stance of the West, and upon the real actions it will take. We strongly believe that internationalization of peacekeepers will make it easier to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia.
IA-Forum: Some commentators in the West have made much of the role that oil has had in the conflict. What role do you believe that pipeline politics has played in the war?
Mr. Papava: Russia bombed the oil pipelines passing through Georgia but fortunately the missiles missed them. It does not matter for Russia that these pipelines are not the property of Georgia per se and that they belong to the international corporations. By doing this Russia showed once again to the whole world that it ignores international legal norms. Russia has never concealed its dissatisfaction with the pipelines arranged to pass through Georgia, though this problem is one element of the plan according to which Russia wanted to topple down the government in Georgia, while showing to the world that all need to reckon with Russian no matter what it does.
IA-Forum: What will be the effects of the crisis on the Georgian economy?
Mr. Papava: It is impossible to estimate the damage, as Russia’s occupation troops still control a certain area of Georgia. The banking system, the supply of the country with energy resources, various private entities, all successfully coped with the Russian aggression-generated shocks. No serious problems emerged either on the food market. Georgia’s economy proved to be vibrant and if the economic assistance from West will be delivered in a timely way, Georgia will be able to successfully overcome economic problems.
Vladimer Papava, a former Minister of Economy (1994-2000) and former Member of the Parliament (2004-2008) of the Republic of Georgia, is a Senior Fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and author of “Necroeconomics: The Political Economy of Post-Communist Capitalism,” and “The Central Caucasus: Essays on Geopolitical Economy” (with Eldar Ismailov).
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