While Brussels is busy making a hash of its policy in Ukraine, there is still the matter of Georgia, long seen as one of the great hopes of the Eastern Partnership, and now falling apart.
While the full story lies with the Russian invasion in 2008, the more recent story begins in 2012, when Georgia, tired of the incompetence and corruption of Mikheil Saakashvili’s party, in short order voted his party and then him out of office. This would be all well and good except that they replaced the well-meaning incompetents who gave Russia a pretext for its invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgian Dream, a billionaire’s party run by a man who made his fortune in Russia, with good ties to Russia, and not gently backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Georgian Dream put on a good show (when not promising to convict every major member of its opposition and predecessor party), speaking of Georgia’s independence, decrying Russian de facto occupation of Georgian soil, and convincing only those credulous enough in Brussels to believe them.
Then in July, Moscow brutally reminded Kiev of the dangers of independence, threatening to destroy Ukraine’s economy if the country signed an Association Agreement with Brussels. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych all but begged Europe for aid sufficient to survive a Russian economic onslaught; all he got in return was the smug assurance that he and his country would eventually understand how wonderful Europe could be someday.
Russia turned next to Moldova, threatening the country’s best-known export, its wine, and playing up strength in its breakaway and potentially breakaway regions. Brussels responded with stern communiques, which doubtless left Putin terrified of the next stage: harsh letters of reprimand and summoned ambassadors.
Today, the Georgian Dream prime minister is broaching the opening of relations with Russia. Russia of course still occupies South Ossetia and Abkhazia (which are, in a totally surprising and not at all to be expected development, staggering under superhuman levels of corruption). Georgians are still angry at the loss of a swathes of their country to their old imperial master.
But to give Georgian Dream the benefit of the doubt, Russia is there and Europe is not. Europe did not come to its aid when it was partitioned, violently and in plain sight. Europe did not come to Ukraine’s or Moldova’s aid (and even now, it is conditioning its aid in Ukraine on tossing aside the democratically elected government for one it would prefer). Europe has neither the teeth of an army, nor the claws of a power confident in itself, its economic power, and its place in the world.
Moscow has both.
The combination of growing Georgian cynicism, Russian and Russian-derived money, growing Russian assertiveness, and European incompetence is undoing the nascent Eastern Partnership faster than European leaders realize. The growing indifference to Eastern Europe’s fate is proof of a hundred hoary maxims about history repeating itself, but at its core, it poses a threat to the European project of freedom and peace across the Great European Plain and beyond. Simply, you cannot have a peaceful Europe and an imperialist Russia. This has been a truth for six centuries, and it shows no signs of changing soon. If Europe would have peace, it must peacefully neutralize Russia or bring it into the fold of post-imperial Europe. Any alternative smacks of simple wishful thinking.
What is happening in Georgia now echoes what happened in Ukraine half a year ago, with one difference. Whatever else may be said, Viktor Yanukovych pushed through a huge slate of reforms in his push to sign the Association Agreement, and even with economic ruin around him, tried again and again to find a path to Europe. By contrast, the President and Prime Minister of Georgia have no great European aspirations, and Russia is waiting, ready, and eager. It will not take much to push them thoroughly into Moscow’s camp (if they are not there already).
In the space of but two years, the all Europe may have to show for the Eastern Partnership is a bitterly divided Ukraine, a splintered and weakened Moldova, and a Georgia pulled into Moscow’s orbit.
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