The world has entered a period of uncertainty. The Western countries, preoccupied with domestic challenges, have ceased to be the only center for international initiative. India and China are gaining in strength, and the geography of international trade is changing. The technological race is becoming the key area of international competition that will determine new global leaders in the 2040s and 2050s.
Taken together, this has cast a new light on the old security problems in Eurasia. Thanks to Russia’s vigorous policies of the past few years, the confrontation line with the West has been moved away from the national border. The geopolitical frontier has shifted to the Middle East, the Balkans and the EU. Russian political analyst Nikolai Silayev believes that this has removed the geopolitical dimension from many post-Soviet problems, which are no longer burdened by confrontation between Russia and the West. This can offer unexpected opportunities to many post-Soviet countries.
Georgia has always been a separate case. It has not joined any of the regional security systems and has to deal with its security challenges single-handed. Under President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia believed that Russia was the only foreign threat facing it and hence created an impressive regional army with US support. Washington believed that the Georgian army would be used in NATO’s military and peacekeeping operations away from Georgia, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Tbilisi created the army in order to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, former Georgian autonomous republics. The war for which the Georgian army trained began in August 2008 and five days later Georgia was defeated. At present, the Georgian army has no military goals that would justify its upkeep, which is why Georgia has recently announced plans to reduce the army.
At the same time, Georgia continues to see serious threats coming from Russia. Georgians believe that Russia has always played an anti-Georgian role in regional politics, which has put Tbilisi on the defensive.
Georgia views NATO membership as the only security guarantee. The country’s largest political forces – the Georgian Dream party and the United National Movement – fully agree on this. Some of the numerous small parties and movements are advocating neutrality or even membership in Russia-led integration alliances. But these views have not taken hold in the country’s political mainstream.
Since joining NATO is not a unilateral process and can only happen with the bloc members’ approval, Georgia is unlikely to become a member soon. Some European NATO members and even the United States firmly oppose the idea of Georgia’s integration into NATO structures or the provision of security guarantees to it under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Most European countries interpreted the geopolitical outcome of the 2008 war as Russia’s resolve to stand up against armed attempts to encroach on its vital interests. Georgia sends its military personnel to all NATO operations in order to prove its role as a producer of security, while in fact it is the largest consumer of security in the region. No NATO country separately or the bloc as a whole intend to protect Georgia’s security. Many of them know that in 2008 Georgia tried to draw the West into a military conflict with Russia.
Therefore, Georgia will hardly be offered a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in the near future. MAP would have a major negative impact on Russian-Georgian relations. In fact, MAP or any other step taken by Georgia towards NATO is a factor in Russia’s relations with the West. Considering the continued attempts to exclude Russia from the bloc-based European security architecture, the Kremlin is bound to see any advance of NATO’s military infrastructure towards the Russian border as a national security threat.
Until recently, an implicit compromise in this sphere looked as follows: the leading NATO countries indicated that Georgia would not be admitted to the bloc and even hinted that it should normalize relations with Russia. The Ukrainian crisis has changed Europeans’ views on the issue. If Russia-West relations soured completely over Ukraine, the issue of admitting Georgia to NATO could be revived as an element of the confrontation policy. However, this would again turn Georgia into a battlefield with highly destructive consequences. It appears, though, that this hypothetical scenario is no longer relevant.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the geopolitical frontier in Eurasia is moving away from Russia’s border. The Ukrainian crisis has receded into the background, and the frontline in the battle between Russia and the West has retreated from the post-Soviet space, giving the border nations a chance to focus on their internal affairs. Russia will not force itself on others. This is a chance for Georgia to forget about its security concerns for a while in order to choose its development priorities calmly and without any external pressure.
Andrey Sushentsov is Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club.