What Should Tbilisi Do About Putin?
As a guest of the Georgian government, armed with high level contacts, and connected to professional translators, I had the rare opportunity to research Tblisi’s position in the neo-Cold War that has emerged between the West and Putin over the last years. Writing for Parallax and breaking the complex issue into three discrete views, I uncovered a broad range of opinion in the country: stretching from those like Lasha Pataraia who wish Georgians to be Western foot soldiers in cyberspace in the confrontation with Putin to those like Malkhaz Gulashvili who believes that Georgia cannot stand up to Russia and should seek to accommodate Putin through neutrality and demilitarization.
Lasha Pataraia: As the proxy conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine has intensified during the last two years, Georgia has reemerged as a potential battleground. Signaling their ongoing intention to deter further Russian expansion, American and British NATO forces completed the Noble Partner training mission with their Georgian counterparts on May 26.When Pataraia surveys these strategic realities, he concludes that Georgia should prioritize cooperation with the West via building its intelligence capabilities to respond to these challenges. The Soviet Union did not collapse due to a frontal military assault, but rather due to its weakening from within. Today, according to Pataraia, Georgia could be instrumental in fighting the information war against Putin’s domestic tyranny and weakening his Caucasian alliance with Armenia, which leads to Georgia’s present encirclement. Pataraia believes that popular opinion in Russia and the Caucasus is currently being dramatically affected by Russian online propaganda.
Mehran Kamrava: For Mehran Kamrava, Director of The Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar,Georgia sits atop the quintessential fault line in the new Cold War. If it becomes enmeshed in a new round of violent Western-Russian confrontation, its territory, citizens, and economic interests stand to suffer greatly…. “Small states in conflict regions have two basic strategic options: either bandwagon or hedge. The drawback for any Georgian attempt to bandwagon with NATO is potential abandonment when the chips are down. Moreover, the Caucasus are a complex region and Georgia needs as many friends as it can get,” Kamrava explained.
Malkhaz Gulashvili: Gulashivili knows about Saakashvili’s dictatorial behavior first hand. During his reign, Gulashvili handed a copy of his book “A Road to the Truth, a Peaceful Caucasus and a Unified Georgia” to Russia’s then-president and current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. The Saakashvili government labeled this an action of “treason” by Gulashvili, who was later incarcerated as a political prisoner…. According to Gulashvili, “the time has come for Georgians to face hard facts. One: Putin is more powerful than Yeltsin ever was and he fully controls the political, economic, military, technological, and media levers in Russia. In short, he and his KGB cronies are more fully in power than any post-Soviet leader. Two: in case of a conflict between Russia and Georgia, the West won’t be able to provide any real and tangible military help to Georgia, as we saw in 2008. That is why Georgia needs to come up with innovative politics. For the sake of argument, I will call it cross politics: we need to seek alignment in all directions: West, East, North and South. Up until now our politics was oriented only towards West.”
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