Report Launch: ‘A Peaceful Solution to Georgia’s Conflicts’

By

Alexandros Petersen
Senior Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society

Douglas Murray

Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society

1 – 2pm, Wednesday 26th September 2012

Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London SW1A 2LW

To attend please RSVP to: jamila.mammadova@henryjacksonsociety.org

Four years ago this month Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia following hostilities the month before.  As part of that agreement, both sides agreed that EU monitors would patrol both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to improve international awareness of developments on the ground. The monitors have been allowed to patrol the Georgian side, but the Russians never kept their side of the bargain and the monitors stand forlornly at the boundary, not knowing what goes on behind this line of occupation.

The Russians have been busy militarising the occupied areas. This month they are conducting military exercises in the occupied areas of Georgia and neighbouring Armenia, ratcheting up tension in the region. Meanwhile, thousands of ethnic Georgians long to return to the homes they were expelled from.

By kind invitation of Rt Hon Denis MacShane MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Georgia, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to the launch of ‘A Peaceful Solution to Georgia’s Conflicts’ by Henry Jackson Society Senior Associate Fellow, Alexandros Petersen. In this well-argued new pamphlet, renowned strategist Alexandros Petersen sets out a new path forward, based on implementing the terms of the ceasefire, improving access for international monitors and new confidence building measures in the region. Mr Petersen will be joined by the Henry Jackson Society Associate Director Douglas Murray.

TIME: 1 – 2 pm

DATE: Wednesday 26th September 2012

VENUE: Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London SW1A 2LW

To attend please RSVP to: jamila.mammadova@henryjacksonsociety.org

Biographies

Alexandros Petersen is a scholar of grand strategy and energy geopolitics.  His most recent book is The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Praeger: 2011) and he is currently conducting research for another on China’s influence across Eurasia.  Petersen serves as Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Previously, Petersen was Senior Fellow with the Eurasia Center and Fellow for Transatlantic Energy Security at the Atlantic Council. He came to the Council from the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he was Southeast Europe Policy Scholar and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he was an Adjunct Fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program. He has served as Program Director of the Caspian Europe Center in Brussels and Senior Researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. In 2006, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. He has also provided research for the U.S. National Petroleum Council’s Geopolitics and Policy Task Group and the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Russian-American Relations.

He has been widely published in The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, as well as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and the National Interest.  He has appeared on the BBC, Sky News, CTV and NPR.

Douglas Murray is the Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society, having joined in April 2011. He previously founded the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think tank studying extremism and terrorism in the UK. A bestselling author and award-winning political commentator, Douglas is a columnist for Standpoint and writes frequently for a variety of other publications, including the Spectator and Wall Street Journal. A prolific debater, Douglas has spoken on a variety of prominent platforms, including at the British and European Parliaments and the White House. He has authored books on neoconservatism, terrorism and national security as well as on freedom of speech. His latest book, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, was published in November 2011.

Transcript

Rt Hon Denis MacShane MP

Welcome all. My privilege is I believe to support the Henry Jackson Society to chair this meeting. I am a Chairman also of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Georgia and I get down there now and then. We are facing a very important election there. It will be a decade next year since the Rose revolution. We had some interesting developments, with Mr Putin admitting that he had given orders to the staff planning for the invasion of Georgia in 2005 or 2006, so it did not quite come out of the blue as it was presented at the time.

The country, for everybody who has not been there, is absolutely wonderful in terms of its people, its history. Tbilisi certainly is one of the most attractive capital cities in the modern world to visit. It’s a crossroads nation: the Black sea, looking out obviously to the great expanse of the East; Russia to the North; Turkey and Azerbaijan to the South. It has a very strong connection to the United Kingdom in THE sense that it was a decision of Lord George who was an evil, loathsome, liberal Minister in 1920, to withdraw the British troops from there that allowed these two great friends of Georgia and of sons of Georgia, Josef Stalin and Mr Beria, to invade and annex what had been after 1918 a modern European democracy – rights for women, trade union rights, education for all, welfare state, healthcare, all of the things that the Henry Jackson Society really detests. But it was working at the time and Katsky and Vilero and Ramsay MacDonald all went there and paid visits and Georgia was seen as an example of social democracy in action and that of course for Stalin, for the communists, for the Bolsheviks, for Lenin, Petrovkiy was completely unacceptable so as quickly as possible Georgian history had to be snuffed out but I am glad that David Cameron went there and in a summer of 2008 when the Russians invaded, Britain showed continuing commitments, so it is a completely old party group that goes there we have a former Bishop of Oxford who comes regularly to keep us on the straight and narrow in terms of getting in touch with God.  I have written a bit on Georgia, I am circulating my little note, there’s a very good Chatham house paper that came out which I’m sure you saw.  Alexandros who’s here and his report is going to be presented, is known to some of us, he is out of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington which is one of the great, I think, calm institutions for calm thinking about international affairs, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and he also worked in Georgia itself. His most recent books are The World Island, Eurasian Geopolitics and The Faith of the West.  And then, Douglas Murray, who I heard talking about Georgia in Tbilisi three or four months ago, does very original serious thinking about international affairs. And it is a great pleasure to recognise, of course, his Excellency the Ambassador of Georgia with us today.

Alexandros Petersen

Oh, thank you so much Denis for such a kind introduction and your tireless focus on Georgia, which I think is important, because it is sometimes easy to forget, but it is because of these sort of meetings here in London as well as in Washington and other Western capitals that we keep the focus on the strategically important part of the world. Thanks to you all for coming. Thanks to the Henry Jackson Society for putting on things, to Douglas for being here and thank you, Mr Ambassador as well, for attending.

Georgia has been in the headlines quite a lot recently. There are a lot of reasons to focus on Georgia. However, I would say, with elections coming up here in October 1st, and you might have heard about the prison abuse scandal, we can chat about that in the questions. But I think that actually, really, the most important reason why we should be focusing on Georgia has to do with the conflict areas, has to do with security, and it is not just the security of Georgia. It has to do with Western security overall.  It has to do, first of all, with that volatile region that Georgia finds itself in.

There are a number of conflicts where the Russian occupation of Georgian territory could have an effect on. Iran to the south, to the north, the contractible Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is very close. And the particular areas of occupation that Russia has occupied within Georgia are extremely close to important corridors for the West into Central Asia and to the Caspian and Afghanistan. This is apart completely from the domestic politics of Georgia; apart completely from the fact that Georgia is the most westernising nation in that part of the world; apart from the immense reforms it’s had and so on. For purely geopolitical reasons Georgia is enormously important. The BTC pipeline, Baku Tbilisi Jeyhan Oil Pipeline, that many of you are probably familiar with, runs extremely close to Georgia’s conflict areas, extremely close to the Russian occupying forces. The Northern distribution network which is the way that a lot of the resupplies get to western forces in Afghanistan, goes straight through Georgia and it is very close to the Russian occupying forces.

There are also a number of future infrastructure projects that are planned for that part of the world which are enormously important for European energy security, namely national gas pipelines to reach the energy rich nations of the Caspian – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan et cetera. So, this is not just about Georgia as much as we ought to care about Georgia in and of itself, I would argue but it is also about interests here in UK, about NATO, it is about efforts in Afghanistan, it is about the United States, and this is why we ought to care. Interestingly, aside from all of that, my report focuses on a European Union effort the EUMM, the EU Monitoring Mission, which is the only at the moment , unfortunately, the only real international presence that is monitoring within the occupation zones,  because the OECD and the United Nations Mission that were there before the 2008 conflict were kicked out.

Let me also mention that a quite important matter of principle, and in the context that this is a Henry Jackson Society event, there is a matter of important principle here, and that is that Georgia is a European country whose territorial integrity is threatened. It is not Yugoslavia, this is not the Balkans where there is separatism from a larger state that was cobbled together, that is not the case here. This is a much larger state. Russia having occupied a much smaller state, Georgia, and so the territorial integrity and security of the people of Georgia, and as I said the region are at stake. And that is something which we really ought not to, just as we did not tolerate it, or many of us argued and there was some action, that we should not tolerate it in Balkans. We certainly should not tolerate it in Georgia either. We will talk about things that we can do. The title of my report is ‘The peaceful solution to Georgia conflicts’, now I do believe that there is a peaceful solution, despite the fact that Russia is involved there with immense military force. I do think that, what my report recommends, which is a sort of step towards trying to achieve settlement, is enormously important, so let me just quickly run through some of the basic sort of arguments, basic points within the report, and then I will elaborate a little bit and handle it over to Douglas.

Number one, the occupation is unsustainable. It could destabilise Georgia and the region anytime. Number two, Russia has not just annexed these areas – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the occupied territories within Georgia. It has not just annexed them.  But it is in fact, using them as bases to violently destabilise Georgia. There is quite a lot of evidence of this, and coming up to the elections, parliamentary elections, pretty soon, and presidential elections next year in Georgia, we may well see Russia use these, use the occupied territories to destabilise Georgia internally again. And I will speak about some of the ways they have done that.

Number three, Russia’s occupation, the way it is conducting it, is completely in contravention of the ceasefire that Russia signed at the end of the 2008 war, in contrast to Georgia, which has been very cooperative with the international presence. Russia has blocked all access to international observers. This is a human rights issue of course. It is also a conflict monitoring issue, but I think most importantly for us here in London it is an issue of regional security and issue of European security.

Number four, the, what you like it to call the international community or the West, the UK in particular— I argue in the report, should make concerted efforts I think, to ensure that the EU monitoring mission is able to fulfil its mandate as envisioned in the ceasefire agreement that was agreed to by Russia, and that is namely to agree to monitoring to both sides of the occupation lines.

And number five, the EU Monitoring Mission’s capacity I think, needs to be expanded and transformed into a peacekeeping mechanism. I think this is the most important point here, a peacekeeping mechanism that has access to both sides. Now of course, you know ideally, the eventual goal will be the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories, but I think and what I argue in this report is that it has to be taken step by step, it is going to be a long process. Unfortunately it is going to be something that may take a generation, may take more than that. However, we have to actually achieve progress and move towards settlement and peace within Georgia, and the way to do that is to move from literally a handful of EU monitors to actually having peacekeepers on the ground to make sure that the tinder box that I have mentioned does not explode again, which it very well could.

We have seen here, in the run up to the elections on October 1st, quite a lot of Russian military movements within the occupied territories, and that is worrying, and that is precisely—and this report was written obviously before that— this is precisely what I argued could happen and could be extremely dangerous, so what you know I have been arguing is in fact happening now, and we ought to be very watchful about that and how something ought to be done, and I will speak a little bit about what we might be able to do.

First of all, I think it is worth pointing out to elaborate a little bit on the points that I have made that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are occupied territories that have been completely depopulated, they have been almost completely depopulated. Their populations have been reduced substantially. In South Ossetia there are about 20,000 civilians left. This is due to massive ethnic cleansing of ethnic Georgians in those areas, but also just people who generally did not agree with the way that Russia was going about things. They have been turned into Russian military zones; there are over 10,000 Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

There is a lot of construction going on that I have witnessed across the occupation lines, huge amounts of Russian military equipment, and all this unfortunately is being been built on, bulldozed and burnt, ethnic Georgian villages, just to detail a few things. There are far more details in the report of course, but there are 100 main battle tanks there, there are hundreds of combat vehicles, APCs; there are ballistic missiles, helicopters, aircraft. It is a complete military zone. If this were just for defence as Russia claims it would be overkill already. They are using, as I have mentioned, the occupied territories to destabilise Georgia. How are they doing so?  There have been a number of bombings over the years, small-scale terrorist bombings here and there to ferment political unrest within Georgia, and there is ample evidence that to suggest how they orchestrated by Russian security services on the occupied territories. Part of the reason why we are quite sure about it is that one of these bombings occurred very close to US Embassy in Tbilisi, and for that reason the US investigating team was sent to Georgia to find out the reasons for this, and the conclusion was that Russian security services were behind it. There have not been for some time, but as I have mentioned, the elections are coming and we have seen movements on the other side of occupation lines, and so I don’t think that we should expect just because there has been some pause in these sorts of attacks there is not going to be future destabilisation or attempts of doing so.

The blocking of EU Monitoring Mission from accessing occupied territories which Russia agreed that they would allow to do is pretty complete, pretty total. Not just that, they are not allowing them on a day-to-day basis to go there, but these 200 or so monitors that rotate in and out, the class that I spoke while I was there doing the research, they have never been to the other side. There was supposed to be a mechanism of dialogue that went back and forth which has now been suspended as well. The head of the monetary mission has been “p-and-g-ed”; made persona non grata in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. So this is a pretty total sort of blockage if you will. The mandate for the EU Monitoring Mission was just renewed by the European Union, September 14th, this month, for the next year. However, I would argue that doing this year-by-year is really rather inappropriate for a conflict situation which actually becomes worse and worse on the ground. The idea that you may have to sort of assess it on a daily basis, you know is, unless you are going to upgrade it, I think indicates for the part of the EU that they are less than serious unfortunately. I would argue that the next time around it needs to be upgraded for a peacekeeping mechanism. The unfortunate thing is that the actual monitors within the EU, many of the countries originally, they were from all the 27 EU member states monitors there. Unfortunately now many of those have been withdrawn. Italy and France, I think, have already pulled out their monitors. The Germans are considering pulling out their monitors. What does this tells us?

I think this tells us that frankly, on the part of, if not the EU mechanisms, on the part of certain European Union member states, there is a grave abrogation of responsibility when it comes to this enormous and important issue. And I think it is short-sightedness of the highest order as the situation gets worse as we are entering elections in Georgia, that these countries supplying monitors to the mission are abrogating their duty. I think it is frankly shameful. And it is good that at least the UK is not one of them.  But either way, the fact remains that 200 monitors within this sort of situation is just not enough. This needs to be upgraded to peacekeeping. To have peacekeepers, this is not radical. There were peacekeepers there before the 2008 conflict and under OEEC mandates there were EU observers, and so on.

So to have peacekeepers there again is not radical in any way, frankly, and strangely enough in this time of austerity, of budget cuts and so on, the European Union actually has the capacity to provide the peacekeepers. And if we look at some of their peacekeeping activities in other places, not only in discussions about this in Brussels, is it clear that there would be a budget for this, but also there are, in fact, peacekeepers available because EUFOR Althea, which is the EU peacekeeping mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, has just been drawn down, and there are, or there were, 25 hundred EU peacekeepers there. There are a number of international peacekeepers contributing as well from countries like Chile, and Switzerland, and Turkey, and many of those with quite a lot of good experience from the Balkans could be moved there so the capacity exists. This is not a matter of bureaucracy being a problem. If the political will was there it could be done. The resources are there, the capabilities are there.

Let me quickly go through my recommendations and then I will be finished. The recommendations in the report are as follows: Number one – before the EUMM term elections, next September, I think the European Union High Representative as well as the UK Foreign Secretary need to make it a stated goal that they will fulfil fully, try to do what they can to fully fulfil, the EUMM. There needs to be pressure from monitors not just, I think initially the best thing that can be done is not just where they are now, which is under the area, the part of Georgia that Tbilisi controls, but the first step would be into areas such as (Alkhaldori and Algori) which are areas that were not occupied by Russia before the 2008 conflict, but now are after the 2008 conflict, that could be a first step towards having more monitors, more peacekeepers. I think the Foreign Office will do well to convene talks on the sidelines of the Geneva negotiations for having peacekeepers. I think you could have a very easy ultimatum, and the Georgian government as far as I know would be open to it, the ultimatum to Russia saying that, look, if you are not open to negotiation about peacekeepers within the occupied territories we will then immediately have peacekeepers, at least on the Georgian side. The UK I think could also simultaneously pledge whether there will be support from other EU peacekeeping missions or elsewhere. About 300 peacekeepers to this, to get the ball rolling if you will. And the most important thing here, because it isn’t actually, in no way is it required frankly that this be under the European Union. I think the EU, given its role and its stature internationally, could play a role to recruit international partners in this beyond the EU, such as there was in the Balkans as I mentioned.

Finally, before I conclude I would like to thank Denis, as well as his fellow MP Gisela Stuart and Andrew Rosendale, for supporting the recommendations and conclusions of this report, in a letter that went to the Foreign Secretary. It was very well worded and I appreciate that. The Foreign Secretary did respond, and I think unfortunately the response was not good enough. It basically said well, at the moment we have been focusing on this and we do not think there is much that can be done if I sum it up, and I think given everything that I have said, no need to repeat it again, that that just does not measure up to the challenge before us. So thanks very much for your patience and I am handing this over to Douglas for some comments.

Denis MacShane MP

Thank you very much indeed, Alex. Plenty of lead there for questions. I am prepared to bet a months salary on whether we’ll get any serious foreign policy debate at any of the three main party conferences. I think I am winning so far on the liberals where one thinks UKIP debate on getting out of Europe is a foreign policy debate [inaudible]. But anyway, over to Douglas, one of the most interesting, innovative and original thinkers on major political aspects, and the joy of listening to Douglas is you never quite know what he is going to say. (laughing)

Douglas Murray

Well, I don’t know what I am going to say entirely now. But thank you for that kind introduction, thank you all again and thank you both Denis McShane and Alex Peterson, I much commend his report. I am going to be very brief because I’m far less qualified than either of my colleagues here, and doubtless most of you in the room to talk about this issue. I spent a bit of time in Georgia earlier this year and was very glad in a café in Tbilisi to bump into Alex and discuss some of these issues there and I just want to make a couple of very broad points.

Obviously Georgia is much in the news at the moment, not only with the election next week, and of course the recent prison scandal, but also because just a few days ago the EUMM stated again what is perfectly clear to anybody who visits the boundary lines, as I did earlier this year, which is that the Russian forces there are building eagerly. And as I said, you can see that if you go up the boundary line that the new military bases and installations are visible, are demonstrable and so on and really cannot be ignored. The thing that strikes me repeatedly in this debate about Georgia is that it always comes back to the same question of what can we do; what can Britain do, what can the EU do, what can individuals in Britain do, and it seems to me that we have to start with a simple acknowledgement, which is that there is a great deficit between the statements that have come out from politicians in this country and the reality on the ground.

Everybody remembers the 2008 visits of David Cameron and William Hague to Georgia, but the reality really has not kept up with that rhetoric. The Henry Jackson Society hosted a meeting a couple of weeks ago on the Maldives, and it was a very striking once again that there is a pattern emerging to my mind. There were certain issues with the Maldives where it appears that Foreign Office here, and others across Europe, talk sort of first rate game but really act as if these are second rate problems, and I think nothing be clearer than that in the case of Georgia. It is clearly, demonstrably slipped into a second order issue for people thinking about foreign policy, and indeed Britain’s strategic and moral objectives in the world and I think that is much to be lamented.

The recognition of the occupation is obviously what people regularly demand, but I just wanted to add one thing to that, which seems to be important not only for the EU and British leadership, but also for the American leadership on this issue. And this is one of the things I would like to pass back over to Alex, and indeed Denis, on this question, it seems to me to be paramount in a whole range of nascent global problems at the moment, Georgia among them. It strikes me that vacuum of decisive clear leadership from the EU, from the America, emboldens autocratic regimes in a very clear manner. You can see that with the debates that are going on with Iran at the moment. I think you can see that with a discussion about Russia and the occupation and with Georgia at the moment, which is of course that unless Russia knew that countries like America, or indeed this one or the EU, were serious about this issue, it will remain a primary issue of importance to them ,and will continue to be of very little important to us, and that only is to our detriment—it is obviously to Georgia’s detriment, but it is a great boon, it seems to me, to Russia. And I wonder if you had, Alex, any thoughts on what an American leadership may take in this particular area?

Alexandros Petersen

Sure. You mentioned second-order issues. Unfortunately, it is not just here but also in the United States, where Georgia has become a second order issue. And you know, one could easily make a partisan point here. You can say, well, this administration, the current administration more broadly in the United States, has abdicated a lot of responsibilities abroad. One could easily say that. But I don’t think that is really the point. I think that Georgia has become a second-order issue across the borders of the United States regardless of party, very much, unfortunately. I think a lot of people in Georgia and people who have looked at this issue for a long time would say that well, when it comes to the US political scene, you know the Republicans, John McCain in particular, who has visited Georgia more than once is, you know the Republicans are sort of a party for Georgia and the Democrats are the party who, you know, ignores Georgia. But I do not think it is as simple as that anymore unfortunately.

I think we have found that because of the domestic priorities and because of the focus on other parts of the world, increasingly Georgia is sort of slipping off the radar, and what we have seen time in time again, and this links to your point about how this emboldens autocrats in this case, you know, not just any autocratic regime. I mean this is an openly aggressive revanchist autocratic regime; particular in it’s so called neo-grad and it is manifested in a more obvious way than it is in Georgia. And what it does, when these sort of issues— because they are not constantly in the news headlines and they slip to a second sub-status— what it does is it emboldens Moscow and it emboldens Putin who is now a President again, at least again in name. We should not forget that the 2008 Georgian War was undertaken by Moscow. Preparations were made throughout the summer of 2008 and it was undertaken in a sort of early mid-August 2008, precisely part of the reason being that it was in the middle of Olympics when no one was paying attention, and it was August when generally you know, I can tell you this as someone who spends maybe too much time in Washington, you know everyone goes on vacation, is on holiday in Washington.

Denis MacShane MP

Wars start in August, end of August, don’t they?

Alexandros Petersen

Exactly, so the best time to do it. And that is the sort of thinking that goes into this on the part of the aggressors in this particular conflict. And therefore, when this slips to a second tier issue, when you don’t have a continual statements of principles coming from Western supporters of Georgia. As well, as I argue in this report, there should be clear action. We are just heading towards the slippery slope to the next time that Russia does something egregious in its neighbourhood.

Denis MacShane MP

I think that says a very, very good point. I mean Russia’s foreign policies have been very simple for a number of years and it is Russia up, America down, Europe out, and there’s a fair bit of British policy makers who agree, at least with the third aspect of that trip tick. But there is a real problem, isn’t there? If you want the strong Europe in Georgia then you’ve got to believe in a strong Europe period. So we are slightly headstrong, and I am very disappointed that no foreign minister to my knowledge has visited Georgia, and I stand to be corrected, since the change of government. I think the Defence Ministers have been there. Well, I am not making party-political points, but I have asked Livington in a friendly way, he’s a very nice guy and needs people turning up. I think Joe Biden is quite a Georgian fan, I think he did go in the crisis of August 2008 as well, just before the election and [inaudible] has been a couple of times.  It does show an interest, but the Russians as you rightly say, it is astonishing if you read Alex’s report 650 main battle tanks T-90s, 568 PCs combat vehicles, I mean that is certainly more than all the other vehicles that the West has got in Afghanistan. It is extraordinary occupied force.

Anyway, questions. We haven’t discussed the election which I am tracking very closely, happy to do so. Certainly I think it is an important election, it is an important year. I would say between now and through the winter Olympics will be a very key sort of 18 months or so for the future of Georgia.

Question 1

How fair would it be to draw comparisons between Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Sudetenland in 1938?

Alexandros Petersen

Well, I’ll take that one briefly. Maybe Douglas knows and possibly has something to say. I don’t think we should be too alarmist in a sense that Russia is going to be marching across the entire South Caucasus. That said, there is a kernel within your point, which is that, you know, we should not expect somehow that just because of the history of the conflicts within the 1990s around the Abkhazia and South Ossetia that somehow this is where Russia is going to draw the line to stop, because actually in the 2008 conflict it ended up occupying more territory than it occupied before the 2008 conflict. So, you know, I don’t think we should go overboard. That said, step by step, I mean, what Russia’s goal here is and we are going to talk about an overall policy. And, as far as I am concerned, Russia’s goal in the South Caucasus is not just in Georgia but also to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, is basically to destabilise the region, to make the region as insecure as possible, so that in can have more influence over leadership there, to keep the West out and to block the important corridors that I mentioned that not only are important for the Western Europe, for the United States, for the North Atlantic community  in connecting through enormously important part of the world into Eurasia, but are important for that part of the world as well in integrating with the West. So the more pugnacious that Russia is here the more they frustrate the goals of NATO, the EU and Western Institutions more broadly.

Denis MacShane MP

It is extraordinary how the occupied bits of countries which cause such huge difficulties. Nagorno-Karabakh is a very good example, Northern Cyprus would be the third, [inaudible] would perhaps be a fourth,the question of the West Bank and its entirety the fifth, Southern and Western Sahara sixth. We have incredibly impracticable problems all located around challenged occupations. I am using that term deliberately, and then we will get a debate on all the rights and all the wrongs. But we just don’t seem to be able to dig ourselves out of some of these rather small but really important issues.  Ambassador I’m going to call, can I leave you for a moment sir, because what I would like to do is to bring you a few other comments and then you can just, otherwise it might just be a ping-pong, briefly on Sudetenland,  I haven’t come across a high line yet in Abkhazia or South Ossetia so I don’t think it’s going to happen but briefly though.

Question 2 – The Georgian Ambassador to the UK

The Sudetenland, well, unfortunately it’s quite striking the similarity… [inaudible]. Well, as a matter of fact the people who live in Abkhazia and South Ossetia inside Russia are clearly discriminated racially [inaudible]. Second, on your point, of course Alex, I cannot see how any Russian tanks march across Europe or elsewhere, but if Russia’s actions are met with weakness and appeasement, clearly we won’t get to the [inaudible].

Denis MacShane MP

Ok, we have got two more questions on this side.

Question 3

I was at a dinner with President Saakashvilli where he was talking about how, laughingly saying, Putin wanted hanging him up by the balls. How much of is this, rather than Russia and Georgia, how much this is just personalities? And therefore, if personalities change, how much do you think that will actually help in our situation?

Denis MacShane MP

Shall we take another question?

Question 4

A question I would like to ask sounds ridiculously simple, but what does Russia want? And if we understand what Russia wants ultimately, then we can direct the West with appropriate response. If we understand what Russia wants in the long term and realise that so far in the 2008 war we’ve only seen phase one and that there are multiple phases still to come, [inaudible] then maybe Western governance will be less likely to respond by saying that there is nothing that we need to do now, because they would realise that if they do not do anything now then it will be much costly than if they take steps [inaudible] So, rather than ask simplistic question, for you to really get to grips with what is going on in the key city-makers minds in Moscow, in [inaudible] et cetera.

Denis MacShane MP

A change of leadership in Russia, will that help? Oh sorry, or in Georgia? Would that help?

Alexandros Petersen

Well, it terms of the personalities’ question, personalities as opposed to countries. I must say, I have to disagree completely. It is not a matter of a pugnacious Putin and Saakashvilli being too big for his britches or something.  Really, it isn’t about that. I think we can debate the enigma of Russia and various leadership that can come up and so on, but a lot of this I think frankly just has to do with good old-fashioned geopolitics. I mean this is a reality of this part of the world.  And while there could be a very peaceful and positive relationship potentially between Russia and Georgia as neighbours, I don’t think the solution to this is “ok, when Saakashvilli leaves everything would be better,” or “when someday Putin disappears, who knows when that may be, suddenly everything would be better.” I think that is unrealistic.

There are many factors in here, but if you do want to boil this down it has to do with the fact that there are lots and lots already apart from Georgia, lots of Russian forces in this part of the world, in the North Caucasus. Historically the Russian military has been active in this area, so there is an incentive for local Russian commanders also to keep this going. And that is actually an extremely dangerous factor which in the past before the 2008 war was quite a serious factor that could tip off potential future conflict as well. That is another reason why we need to be so weary, not just on a sort of diplomatic front where the war goes on between Moscow and Tbilisi and Moscow and European capitals and so on, but on the ground in terms of monitoring and peacekeepers and that is why peacekeepers are so important, is that this could be tipped off by something that a Russian commander pulls on the ground. So that is partly that, but I do think that it frankly has to do with; Russia is insecure in a sort of like; Georgia is everything in many ways internally which Russia is not. It is quickly reforming, westernising, will be part of the Euro-Atlantic community one day, despite the foot-dragging on the part of Western leaders. So, you know, in that sense it seemed a very serious [inaudible] in Moscow. So I think it goes far beyond the leaders unfortunately.

That is not to say that there is not the potential for things to change, and that brings me to the second question of what does Russia want, how can a situation be changed? I think I answered the question party in saying what does Russia want in South Caucasus. I think it wants to destabilise the region as much as possible to maintain an insecure environment so that it can be a sort of a security overlord there, and so that it can frustrate Western interests. More broadly, as I mentioned, this is part of, you know, wanting to frustrate Western interests on many fronts. But if you want to come to a solution from that question, I think part of it is that, you know, if you look at Russian actions— and again it is difficult to divine the mystery wrapped in enigma of course—but if you look at Russian actions they do respond to firm statements, backed up by firm commitments and firm actions. If one is, as a Western leader, quite firm about what is acceptable and what is not in this case, I think if you generally look at the way Russian policy makers respond usually, paradoxically in some ways to the way that some might in the West, “well, that is ok, that is a red line”, I suppose to say, “oh I have taken a finger here, maybe I could take the whole arm.” So in terms of how we can respond, in terms of Russia’s behaviour one of the main things is precisely what Douglas brought up, which is to stand by our commitments and, you know, much  as we say or going to do but in fact go further and state our principle in this extremely dangerous situation.

Denis MacShane MP

Any other questions? Yes, ma’am.

Question 5

[inaudible]

Alexandros Petersen

You have to speak louder. I am also deaf as well.

Denis MacShane MP

Any other questions?  One of the problems that strikes me in Georgia is that it is very, very— the politics are just too clammy, too personalised, it’s the outs and the ins, the ins and the outs. There is not actually any real ideological underpinning there. There have been very strong free market reforms which to some extent worked, but actually Georgia is a developmentive state. It needs to have I think much more guidance than in the way Switzerland or Netherlands have developed over the years. You cannot just impose sort of [inaudible] stuff on Georgia. There is a real problem I think with wealth accumulation in politics…and Saakashvilli, according to one report I read last week is worth 1.6 billion euros or perhaps dollars. How is it that an elected politician who has been in office for 10 years and [inaudible] have that wealth? Without even getting into Mr Ivanishvilli who is worth a third of the total GDP of Georgia and having made all this money now wants to buy a Parliament. Yet the only way oppositional politicians get a bit of a hearing is of course by falling under his Georgian dream umbrella. The All-Party Group is not for Mr Saakashvilli or Mr Ivanishvilli. I meet, we meet, any Georgian who’s legitimate democrat who comes and will sort of talk to us and we will work with whoever forms the government. But that just seems to me, is a problem in a lot of the post-Soviet Southern Balkan Black Sea states. The interface between politics and money is just too, too problematic and I have made that point to Mr Saakashvilli and his friends, I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t said there. What the answer is I’m not entirely clear but you just have to separate personal enrichment and public service in rather more pragmatic way.

Douglas Murray

You are undoubtedly saying they need a social democratic party of some kind or a labour party in Georgia?

Denis MacShane MP

Well, it is a genuine pint I make actually elsewhere, which is that if you want to network then you’ve got to network across the board, and yes it is true that if it is a European Parliament or it is Western European governments or even Canadian, Australian and other governments, then some of them have got quite important parties in the centre-left. Right now Mr Saakashvilli’s party is with the European [inaudible] party which makes sense. The Georgian dream is suddenly affiliated to European Liberal Democratic Alliance, and so there will be an incredibly aggressive outburst in European voice, which a very good [inaudible] saying you know, Sakaashvilli, they’re all crooks, media-crushing, prisoners being killed and all the rest of it. Quite frankly I think interference language from the Brussels Liberal Democrats, the Social Democrats and the trade unions are virtually not existent in Georgia. They are a very small Social Democratic party, I have met them and I have met the Labour delegation Service International in Cape Town two or three weeks ago, but I have never met or come across them in Georgia and when I’d asked about our Ambassador [inaudible] hadn’t across them.

Question 6

Well I asked you to comment on [inaudible], the reason that the Georgian dream are affiliated with the liberals is because one of their constituent parties is the republicans which is the long-standing liberal pressure group of Georgia that’s been affiliated with them for years. But your point about a Social Democratic Party, I mean you probably wished for, because in both of the manifesto’s of the national movement and the Georgian dream they talk about massive investment in agriculture, unemployment programs, extending social insurance, so the fact that when it comes to the crunch and when it comes to a [inaudible] election, both major forces have exactly what they needed from you which is a social democratic fraternity and have completely abandoned their libertarianism in favour of promising the population what the population want to hear.  Now whether that’s true remains to be seen,  whether any of the policies from either camp can be taken seriously at all in this situation is another question, but certainly when you have competitive elections for the first time ever really in Georgia, they promise buy you a new tractor and to give you free health insurance.

Denis MacShane MP

Oh my god they promise you the NHS, what a disaster! (laughing)

Question 7

[Inaudible]

Denis MacShane MP

The alternative to leaving the country for the social democrats when Stalin arrived was the shot in the back of the neck. (laughing)

Time to die for social democracy! (laughing)

[Inaudible] Right now we’re starting a debate and we’ve got one minute to go, very quickly.

Question 8

What do you think is the Russian security situation in North Caucasus?

Question 9

[Inaudible]

Alexandros Petersen

I will be very quick. On the second question, I think broadly the idea of engaging, just as it was before the 2008 conflict, as the Tbilisi government was doing, is an extremely good idea. Whether it brings any social goods there in trying to achieve some development there and spill over into neighbouring regions is, I think, a principle and an extremely good idea. Unfortunately it is impossible in the current environment, because the locals are allowed to go back and forth, but they are continuously harassed and it is extremely difficult. We are talking about lines of the occupation where Russian soldiers and Russian tanks are there. It is very difficult to have that sort of spill-over strategy that was actually already quite successful before the 2008 conflict, and then there was the outbreak of the war.  So I think there are serious limits on what can be done, but in principle it is a good idea. On the North Caucasus, it plays into it in a sense that, I think if Georgia wanted to, it’s so far been, the leadership to me seems to have been quite wise in not stoking this particularly, but if it wanted to, you know, there are a lot of potential allies for Georgia in the North Caucasus and it could create lot of trouble for Russia. That said, wisely I think, Tbilisi largely stayed away from that, because it does not want to be accused of exactly the same sort of things that Russia is doing within Georgia.

Denis MacShane MP

I think that’s right, Georgia for example has not recognised Kosovo, whereas the majority of democracies do. The argument put is, that would destabilise some of the Caucasus potential, which I can understand geopolitically. [inaudible]

Douglas, do you want quickly to come in?

Douglas Murray

Very quickly. First of all, Alexandros’s report is here. When you came in there was rather alarming sign here, saying dangerous restricted area, but I don’t know, the signs have gone whether health and safety will forgive us if we all plummet thirty foot I don’t know. But please, do take one, it is free. And secondly very, very quickly, just coming back to question of the Sudetenland, and all problems are not 1938 and all enemies are not Hitler, but I do think there is an important point here on the issues mentioned earlier about the gap between capability and morality. I think it is something that you know this country in where we are continuously drawing down, our armed forces and capabilities are less and less all the time. Yes, I think that it is an important thing to say that there are values which you will continue to support wherever in the world you see them, whether it’s in Georgia, whether it’s in the Middle East, to simply remind the people who share your values that you will be on their side. And I think that this is something which, even when you feel that some of the mutual opponents you might face maybe able to overwhelm you, nevertheless, in the long run solidarity with anyone who shares your values strikes me as being something which wins in the end. And finally, on the issue of social democrats, I’ll just say that of course this could all be solved because in two and a half years’ time there is going to be a liberal democrat party going spare and there is no reason why we could not send it on loan to Georgia. (laughing)

Denis MacShane MP

Well, I would love to but I do a party politics within (laughs). Thank you very much. Thank you to Henry Jackson Society ever for setting this up.  The publication is excellent. Alexandros, thank you. This has really got some good meat in it. Please keep taking interest in Georgia, very boring to say write to your MP and sort of say will you write to Hague about Georgia. The will is there in the government, but it is just breaking through partly the Foreign Office, bureaucracy and prioritisation, and it is very hard to find ministerial time to do things, and you know, even when you try to lead down the street on your bike (laughing). You don’t have to go as far as Georgia to get into real trouble (laughing). But thank you very much, to HJS and thank you for Douglas [inaudible]. Please take that and spread it around. Thank you.

HJS



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