Trump and Putin in the Caucasus: Georgia’s Options at the Abkhaz Border
A few months ago Jason Pack, founder of Libya-Analysis, was the guest of the Georgian backgammon club, who had given him the opportunity to play in the Gugi Bukia Memorial Backgammon tournament in Batumi (a seaside resort by the Black Sea). After taking second in the super jackpot, he used the opportunity to have a foray northward to the Abkhaz border. Now months later given developments between Trump and Putin, this region constitutes a new fault line in the global order, hence he teamed up with Lolita Brayman to publish this first hand view of the fissures in the global order.
Georgians are now at a crossroads as they contemplate the potential effects of a Trump-Putin détente for their country. The United States has long supported Georgia, as Russian influence creeped further and further into Georgian territory via the so-called “frozen conflicts” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, President Trump’s friendly approach to President Putin could mean less access to Washington for officials in Tbilisi. In this neo-Cold War era, Georgians need to rethink their strategy of non-recognition regarding the lost territories before these entrenched faultlines erupt into complete chaos, or worse yet, war.
Georgia’s attempt to extend an olive branch to Abkhazia, by including them in a visa free travel arrangement with Europe, further solidified the partnership between the de-facto republic and Russia. It provided Russia an opportunity to step up as the true champion of Abkhazia’s sovereignty goals. Russia is now promising to convince the EU to start accepting Abkhazia’s own passports for travel into the region. Even though the empty promise holds little chance of coming to fruition, Russia’s no-strings attached approach provides a sense of unfettered backing…
The saying “where there is conflict there is opportunity” rings true in the South Caucasus. Here, conflict with Russia provides Georgia an opportunity for continued American and European patronage. The perpetuation of conflict helps their allies on the ground. It can be argued that Georgians don’t want to resolve the conflict because continuing it ensures Western defense aid and makes the small country more important in international affairs. But at what point does conflict become too costly?
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