Russia’s provocative moves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the continuing occupation of Crimea and the threat of large-scale war in Donbas, can serve as useful test cases for uniting Georgia’s and Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts.
The Ukrainian delegation to the United Nations took the initiative to discuss the situation in the occupied territories of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – at a recent meeting of the U.N. Security Council (Un.org, March 28). Volodymyr Yelchenko, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the U.N., invited the members of the Security Council to express their countries’ positions on the process of “absorption” of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian armed formations by the Russian army. He also brought up the referendum on renaming South Ossetia that was to be held in this region on April 9 (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 21).[According to RFERL, some 78 percent of voters supported a proposal to change the region’s name from the Republic of South Ossetia to the Republic of South Ossetia-Alania. The United States, the European Union, and Georgia called the April 9 votes illegitimate and said they would not recognize the results. In a statement on April 9, the Georgian Foreign Affairs Ministry said the name-change referendum in the region “aims at laying the ground for its illegal annexation” by Russia.]
“Russia violates the Ceasefire Agreement of August 12, 2008. We urge the Russian Federation to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories and to create conditions for the involvement of international security mechanisms and restoration of territorial integrity of Georgia,” Ambassador Yelchenko declared. According to him “the history of the annexation of Crimea cannot be left without attention and adequate responses” (Un.org, March 28).
Kyiv’s draft proposal consisted of two paragraphs: 1) The Security Council will consider the situation in Georgia, and 2) It expresses full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country. But Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, used its position to block the discussion of the issue.
After Moscow’s veto, the permanent representative of Georgia to the U.N., Kakha Imnadze, held closed-door consultations with the other U.N. Security Council members. Subsequently, he told journalists that although Russia had succeeded in blocking the issue from being raised in the international organization’s highest body, Moscow remained completely alone: “Except for Russia, all other U.N. Security Council member states endorsed the draft statement, proposed by Ukraine. None of the other countries opposed it, including [the other four] permanent members of the Security Council. This is very important against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Syria [because it demonstrates that] the issue of Georgia still remains on the agenda of the global community,” Mr. Imnadze said (Pia.ge, April 1).
The attempt to raise the question of Georgia’s territorial integrity at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) produced a sharp reaction from Moscow (News.ge, March 31). The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry declared, that Tbilisi “was trying to take advantage of the fact, that Ukraine had the status of a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council.” Earlier, the representative of the Russian Federation to the U.N., Peter Ilichev, said that against the backdrop of the situation in Syria, “it was not worth distracting the attention of the UNSC to the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia” as, according to him, there was no conflict and Georgia should recognize the “new realities.” Speaking to journalists, the Russian acting permanent representative declared, “If Georgia and its protectors try to discuss the issues of security without the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Geneva talks may even be closed.” Russia claims its tough stance is in response to the intensification of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) activities in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea (Golos-ameriki.ru, March 30).
Georgian politicians and foreign policy experts widely believe that Ukraine’s recent U.N. Security Council initiative was motivated by Kyiv’s attempt to create a “tandem” with Tbilisi, in the diplomatic and political arena, to push back against and resolve the problems arising from Russia’s aggression against them. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili recently traveled to Ukraine. There, he held a working visit with the Ukrainian leadership and participated in a summit of GUAM (which unites Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) heads of state (1tv.ge, March 26). The Georgian authorities had reacted cautiously to the events in Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine) in order not to irritate Moscow. Tbilisi did not join the Western sanctions against Russia, except for the ban on the purchase of goods produced in Crimea (see EDM, August 14, 2015).
But there was another issue that, until now, had hindered closer Georgian-Ukrainian cooperation on the international stage, despite their objective convergence of interests in the context of the Russian occupation: Mikheil Saakashvili, the former governor of Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast and the previous president of Georgia. When Mr. Saakashvili still held the post of Odesa governor, the current Georgian president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, protested to the ambassador of Ukraine “against a Ukrainian official’s interference in Georgian politics” (Svoboda.org, October 3, 2016). Mr. Margvelashvili referred to the fact that Mr. Saakashvili retained his position at the head of the opposition United National Movement party even while abroad and serving in a foreign government. That party took part in the parliamentary elections last fall, but came in a distant second place (see EDM, October 13, 27, 2016). After this conversation with the Georgian head of state, the ambassador of Ukraine left Tbilisi. Kyiv for a long time did not appoint a new ambassador to Georgia. Many experts likened this situation to a “diplomatic demarche by Ukraine” (Vestnik Kavkaza, November 28, 2016).
In early November, Mr. Saakashvili resigned from his gubernatorial position and politically moved into opposition to President Petro Poroshenko (see EDM, November 14, 2016). As such, Mr. Saakashvili can no longer be considered a member of the Ukrainian government. Consequently, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition is ready to restore political ties with Kyiv and to act jointly in the international arena. Russia’s provocative moves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the continuing occupation of Crimea and the threat of large-scale war in Donbas (see EDM, March 30), can thus serve as useful test cases for uniting Georgia’s and Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts.
The article above is reprinted from Eurasia Daily Monitor with permission from its publisher, the Jamestown Foundation, www.jamestown.org.