ArmInfo’s interview with Ivlian Khaindrava, expert at the Tbilisi-based International Republican Institute
by David Stepanyan
I do not think that this will become a problem for our centuries-long good-neighbored relations. In this context, one should not worry about that much. The strategy of the common interests of Armenia and Georgia coincides so much, that their joining different economic and even military and political blocs will not cast doubt upon their interests. Armenia is so much interested in Georgia and Georgia is so much interested in Armenia, that despite geo-political structures and systems, which they joined, both countries will always find opportunities for cooperation. These systems are of a temporary nature, while our interests are endless. As long as our countries exist, our common interests will also exist.
In Georgia, particularly, in Adjaria, they are seriously concerned over strengthening Turkish factor. Many call that as dominant influence. Do you see any threat coming from Turkey’s strengthening positions in Georgia?
It is quite natural that Turkey has occupied Russia's niche in Georgia, because of Russia's unfriendly policy regarding our country. In general, over all these years Turkey has been conducting rather friendly policy regarding Georgia. Turkey is important to Georgia as a NATO member-state, and was showing the needed aid to Georgia. There is such a threat especially in Adjaria where the presence of the Turkish capital is growing day by day. I would also add Turkish activeness in the religious sector, especially in Adjaria, where young men are directed to Turkey for gaining religious education. They return from Turkey as Muslim religious missionaries. The politics is far from charity. There are permanent interests in it, and Turkey has been conducting the policy that meets its national interests.
If we think that in this way the national interests of Georgia are put under threat, we have to conduct a sound policy that meets true challenges of the time, and the natural disbalance in the relations between a superpower and a weak state. However, at present I cannot say that for Georgia there is no threat of extensional nature in our relations with Turkey. One must not let it happen.
Time has proved that the attempts to resolve the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force are useless. Will Georgia’s integration into Europe open new opportunities of reintegration of these regions?
The August War of 2008 and everything that followed it have just complicated the task of those regions’ reintegration into Georgia. In Georgia, they realize that this task cannot be settled within the coming years. The major goal of Georgia now is to preserve the perspective of reintegration that may be achieved or not. I think Georgia needs to take three measures to keep the chance of reintegration of Abkhazia and South Osseria. First – a direct dialogue between Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia at an official level. Second – Georgia’s Europeization. Georgia must become a country with high freedoms and living standards of the population to seem interesting and attractive to Sukhumi and Tskhinval. Third- normalization of relations with Russia, a country that plays a big part in all the above processes. Over the last year, these relations have changed to better. It is necessary to further work on the issues of mutual interest. However, no quick breakthroughs are expected here.
What about the situation in Ukraine? Do you anticipate any breakthroughs? The situation seems to become more and more deadlocked…
The tragic events in Ukraine happened as a result of the conflict of interests of the West and Russia. One should not neglect the political elite of Ukraine that, unfortunately, failed to meet the challenges. It is a painful fact, but all the latest development in Ukraine directly resulted from the 23 years of the Ukrainian political elite's degradation. Having no desire to blame Europe for anything, I would like to see Europe more consolidated, able to more precisely realize where its own borders are. At least, look at such important issue as Turkey's admission to the EU – an issue that remains pending for many years already. No one has fully understood whether the Eastern Partnership was created to open European perspectives for the member-countries or it seeks to hold them from accessing the EU. Having no exact answers to these issues, Europe becomes vulnerable, which is successfully used by Russia today. I hope that the West will learn lessons from the current situation and draw relevant conclusions. Security issues are at stake now. Armenia knows from its own experience what this means.
The same applies to Moldova and Georgia. Everyone knows what tragic consequences this issue had in Ukraine. Meanwhile, neither the AA nor the DCFTA nor the visa liberalization with Europe gives any security guarantees to Georgia. Consequently, either Europe must invent anything new, or the issue of NATO membership will automatically occur on the agenda. However, we are well aware how aggressively the Kremlin perceives the idea of the Alliance's further expansion to the East. It is a tangle of unresolved problems and for such small countries as Georgia and Armenia it is very hard to untangle it.
Nevertheless, the EaP countries must strictly realize the direction they must and want to move towards calmly and doing their everyday work, without fists flailing and breast-beating. It is high time for the EU to define its positions and countermeasures in the light of Russia's methods in Ukraine.
What are the prospects of Georgia’s accession to NATO and EU, amid ongoing developments in Ukraine?
The crisis in Ukraine has stimulated the West's interest in smaller eastern partners. For the first time in all these years, they in Brussels have said that countries like Moldova and Georgia have European future. Though quite vague, that message was a step forward. Over the last months, many western officials have visited Georgia – more than over the last years. The French President’s visit was the last link in that chain of visits. It appears that visiting the South Caucasus French President Francois Hollande sought to see if there is sense for France and the EU to spoil relations with Russia for the sake of that region.
I expect no breakthroughs here but believe that if Georgia lives up to the EU's expectations, its European prospects will become stronger. With NATO things are much more complicated. Even after the events in Ukraine the West is not ready to war with Russia. If it is not ready to war for Ukraine, it will hardly be ready to war for Georgia. In any case, they in the West can make it clear to the Russians that they do care for us.