US Berates Georgia for Not Being Sufficiently Anti-Russian

Having been considered a darling of Washington, the small country in the Southern Caucasus once again finds itself between a rock and a hard place, writes Giorgi Lasha Kasradze.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arriving in Georgia in March 2019. (NATO)

By Giorgi Lasha Kasradze
in Tblisi, Georgia
The National Interest

Much to the chagrin of traditional Georgia watchers in the West, an undeniable return of great power competition has compelled the current political leadership in Tbilisi to pursue a more pragmatic foreign policy. However, this has not spared the current ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD), from Western criticism. Tbilisi stands being accused of deviating from Georgia’s traditional pro-Western course.

This criticism is astonishing, mainly because recent excoriations of the ruling GD government inaccurately reflect the collective spirit of Georgian society.

Georgia’s storied history is embedded in its pro-Western strategic culture. Even the ultranationalist but democratically elected first president, Zviad Gamsakurdia, attempted to use his “strategic idealism” with Washington, but to no avail.

Georgia, in other words, has been offering itself to the collective West on a silver platter throughout its early and modern history without any takers. Still, Tbilisi is openly being accused, for all the wrong reasons, of deviating from its traditional Western-oriented foreign policy.

So, what is lurking behind this tactical change in Tbilisi? The gist of it seems to center around the fact that Georgian society has started to awaken from Tbilisi’s strategic slumber from the previous decades.

Georgia Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili at a U.N. conference in September 2022. (UN Photo/Laura Jarriel)

And while the country remains overwhelmingly pro-Western, the overall anti-Russian hysteria that defined the presidency of the now-jailed Mikhail Saakashvili — the boisterous golden boy of the Bush administration — has subsided. In turn, Washington’s foreign policy community has expressed explicit irritation with Tbilisi for being out of tune with Washington’s drumbeat, which in the past has kept Georgia firmly in line with the high pitch of Moscowbashing. 

Consider the accusations from former U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly. The ambassador blames Tbilisi for straying from the West and not showing enough solidarity with Ukraine. Such commentary is suggestive of political spin, if not of an intentional omission of facts. Kelly’s meaning following his peculiar statement that …this is a very bad time for all this when there is a real discussion about NATO enlargement, is also unclear. It is precisely because of the unfettered promotion of Georgia for NATO membership that Russia felt threatened and invaded it in 2008. [After provocation from Georgia, according to a report commissioned by the European Union.]

Five-Day War with Russia  

Were it not for Saakashvili’s recklessness, Georgia could have kept Moscow not only from invading it, but also from recognizing the two regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali as independent states — something that former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had achieved by balancing with Moscow. In other words, Georgia’s strategic stance went from bad to worse in a matter of five days. And yet, judging from these comments, this existential threat to Georgia seems to matter little to the ambassador, as long as the NATO expansionism talk continues unfazed.

Political map of the Caucasus, including unrecognized states, 2013. (Travelpleb, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In yet another instance, Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, suggested that Georgia should be pushed into NATO, but without the Article V guarantees for [collective defense] for the two separatist regions. But again, such fantastical innovations augment the existential threat Georgia faces from Russia.

The reason Moscow supports separatist movements in these regions is to ensure that not a sliver of Georgian territory joins NATO. Therefore, it is far from clear how Russia will ever accept what would amount to a separate peace with Abkhazia and Tskhinvali while the rest of Georgia receives Article V protection. Even the most ardent proponents of liberal internationalism must suspect that such a policy would further weaken Georgia’s sovereignty by once again enraging Moscow. 

Needless to say, the gradual accumulation of such views created a toxic political climate. Most recently, pushback came from Georgia Dream, the party of Georgia’s own prime minister. It claimed that “certain forces” in Ukraine close to the United National Movement (UNM) were engaged in machinations to push Georgia into opening a second front against Russia.

Even U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan had to explicitly deny such rumors to calm political waters. Degnan also had to face her own audience in Washington, when members of the U.S. Congress became interested. However, the damage had already been done; four former members of the current Georgian government wrote an open letter claiming that the European Union would not grant Georgia its candidate status if it “does not join the war or join the sanctions against Russia.”

Mikheil Saakashvili in 2013. (European People’s Party, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

And of course, the current context of political petulance would not be complete without the ominous shadow of the UNM party that continues to loom large in Georgian politics. The criminality of Saakashvili’s regime has deeply stigmatized the population and made it wary of UNM’s return. So far, a good indication of this shift in public perspective is that Saakashvili’s arrest has not generated the level of support among his electorate that he had hoped. Bereft of political and moral legitimacy, it is unlikely that he will return to politics in Georgia any time soon. 

To be sure, GD has been far from innocent in this political quagmire. Having skillfully used this uncertainty, it has dangled the prospect of UNM’s return as the resumption of state terror. Having won an unprecedented third term, GD has managed to keep the population at bay even with its consistent failure to improve the economy and its blatant withdrawal from EU-brokered agreements. Ironically, this failure has not prevented it from exploiting the existing public perception that the UNM is being egged on against GD by Georgia’s Western partners. 

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Tbilisi, Nov. 18, 2020. (State Department/ Ron Przysucha)

In order to defuse tensions, the West must take the high road and de-escalate the political climate in Tbilisi. The current political duel is shabby theatrics and only deepens polarization. The West exerts much more influence over Tbilisi, but political officials in Washington must understand how to properly take advantage of it.

One aspect of the relationship they must leverage is Georgia’s long-held tradition of using personal relations as a way to engage in robust diplomacy behind the scenes. Further, Washington must forego its infatuation with Saakashvili, recognize harsh realities on the ground, and treat the GD as an equal player.

Lastly and most importantly, geopolitics is part and parcel of the region. Western officials must consider this vital fact, prior to equating Tbilisi’s pragmatism with an anti-Western shift. Georgia has band-wagoned before with its northern neighbor. This geopolitical consideration should not come as a surprise to Washington, given that it cannot guarantee Georgia’s security in either the short- or long-term. Georgians have started to pay closer attention to this dynamic, if only because the historic visit of the American president to their country frustrated their hopes for NATO membership. 

Ironically, the United States and Georgia are tied together. Even though Georgia does not represent a “vital” security interest for the United States, Washington has made enormous political, financial, and military investments to strengthen Georgia’s legitimacy and sovereignty. If Washington wants to strengthen this tie with Georgia, American policymakers must show strategic flexibility by reducing pressure on the leadership in Tbilisi. No great decisions can be made while Georgian policymakers are constantly squeezed between a rock and a hard place.

Giorgi Lasha Kasradze is an academic liaison and strategic business development officer at Sokhumi State University and a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

This article is from The National Interest.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

11 comments for “US Berates Georgia for Not Being Sufficiently Anti-Russian

  1. Mark Thomason
    March 2, 2023 at 10:22

    The US neocons once before (2008) talked Georgia into attacking Russia. Georgia then expected the US to provide help that was never forthcoming.

    It seems likely Cheney in his visit had promised help. It seems likely he wanted to provide it, but saner voices in the US refused to put the US into war with Russia in the way that Cheney wanted, in the way that motivated Cheney’s otherwise insane idea of Georgia attacking Russia.

    So did Georgia learn the lesson about listening to these guys? That is what we watch now. Replay.

  2. Renate
    March 2, 2023 at 03:26

    The USA is on the losing end, without pressure and sanctions and arm-twisting they have no allies. Putin’s people don’t have to do that.
    When it is over and NATO, what is left of it loses, the USA will be an isolated nation, NATO allies in Europe will be vanquished, and the EU is not likely to survive without the German economy. The war profiteers will be the only winners, Zelensky if he survives is one of them.

  3. maria S Calef
    March 1, 2023 at 17:54

    Great article but I do not agree about the statement that ” Georgia have been traditionally pro western” Georgia was part of the Soviet Union Federation, and keep in excellent ties with Moscu, despite of the infiltration of CIA within Georgia. Now there is the Georgia dream party which has become pro Western after the Soviet era, and thanks to the strong and widen penetration of secret Servies before and after in Georgia. More, Georgia was always pro Soviet and very strong. In addition, the US ambassador is engaged in the machinations to push back Georgia in conflict with Russia; ” divide and conquer” and ‘fish in troubled water” to that be easier to US NATO full spectrum dominance in that region.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    March 1, 2023 at 15:16

    Georgia is acting exactly the way countries need to act when dealing with “It’s our way or the highway,” self-promoting national security apparatus.

    The Congress must step up and place these morons in a much more confining structure to maintain congressional control over their war making.

    Something I see little future for simply because congress has joined this right wing leadership by abdicating it’s over sight responsibility. DeepState owned bankers have bought them off apparently.

    Thanks CN

    • Renate
      March 2, 2023 at 03:38

      This super bipartisan or better one-party congress just voted unanimously to continue the illegal sanctions against Syria. The big corporate deep state is in charge.

    • evelync
      March 2, 2023 at 08:40

      “The Congress must step up and place these morons in a much more confining structure to maintain congressional control over their war making.’

      YES! Robert! But I don’t have much hope that this congress will take any responsibility for anything.
      I was shocked and sickened to have watched the ass kissing and bowing and scraping to Victoria Nuland when she testified before a Senate foreign relations ctte (I think) a few months ago. Shocking to watch even Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy in her pocket.
      No oversight whatsoever.
      We’re in trouble when delusional NEOCONS control the minds and hearts of Senate weaklings.

      This mass hysteria over running the world when we can’t control our debt, can’t do oversight over Wall Street reckless ownership of the rail companies, our treasury secretary runs to Ukraine to hand over a few more $billion and ignores East Palestine Ohio.

      We’ve run amok, I am afraid..

      But thanks for pointing this out. You are absolutely correct.

    • evelync
      March 2, 2023 at 09:22

      “The Congress must step up and place these morons in a much more confining structure to maintain congressional control over their war making.’

      YES! Robert! But I don’t have much hope that this congress will take any responsibility for anything.
      I was shocked and sickened to have watched the ass kissing and bowing and scraping to NEOCON Victoria Nuland when she testified before a Senate Foreign Relations CTTE in March 2022. No question about the wisdom of the NEOCON foreign policy of endless for profit WAR WAR WAR. Diplomacy off the table, apparently. We know, we rule, you obey.
      No discussion of whether this decades long strategy of using NATO expansion and now Ukraine as a proxy to weaken Russia to break up Russia, which has backfired, serves the best interests of the people of this country and world peace. The Senators seem caught up in the delusions of the NEOCONS.

      This mass hysteria over running the world when we can’t control our debt, can’t do oversight over Wall Street reckless ownership of the rail companies, our treasury secretary runs to Ukraine to hand over $1+billion, promising $10+billion more and ignores East Palestine Ohio.

      We’ve run amok, I am afraid..

      But thanks for pointing out this critical failure in our government. You are absolutely correct. Congressional oversight of WAR, BUDGET, and the rest is gone. As Bruce Fein pointed out in his article on CN the other day, Madison would be completely disheartened to see what we’ve become.

  5. Realist
    March 1, 2023 at 14:32

    Just like the Balkans and Islamic central Asia, the Caucuses are ancient civilisations that have been fragmented, polyglot and engaged in internal standing wars for millennia. When the Tsars and the Soviets ruled, or at least constrained, these regions with an iron fist, kind of a Pax Russiya prevailed and the common folks got to live our their lives without constant wars. Moreover, the common interests of not bucking the central authority in St. Petersburg, or later Moscow, probably served as a unifying factor for these disparate peoples.

    The dissolution of the Soviet Union, including the Balkans that had been unified under independent strongman Tito, negated all of the unifying and peace-inducing forces. Suddenly, these societies were cast back into the B.C.E. era of bellicose tribalism. Look at how rapaciously Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and the other Turkic republics, including Turkey itself, want to eat Christian Armenia alive. Like every other now sovereign mini-statelet in the region, Armenia will have none of it and is bound and determined to fight to the last Armenian to maintain its independence and control over as much geography as it can under force of arms. Georgia is in the same sort of perennial ethnic warfare with the minorities cohabiting its territories, with the people as permanent residents since long before America’s founding fathers or their great, great, great, great….great grandfathers were even born during the height of the Roman empire. These meddlers now feel exceptional enough to want to micromanage every aspect of these ancient societies which the principles couldn’t even find on a map if their lives depended upon it.

    The only compelling principles in their modus operandi is, does instigating more chaos in the region impede Putin and Russia in their attempt to maintain peace and stability in the region? Or, will the hoped-for chaos, warfare and death degrade Russia’s capabilities of reducing, or at least stabilizing the inherent high entropy levels in these fractious and relatively unsophisticated–certainly powerful only at a very petty level–republics, many if not most now independent for the first time in a thousand years or perhaps forever?!

    The U.S. KNOWS the tightrope act that Russian leaders MUST walk to appease Georgians, Abkhazians, Ossetians and whomever ever else inhabits this small patch of dirt known as Georgia. The CIA, with its little black book of dirty secrets about EVERY society and its minority divisions on this entire planet, compliments of having far too many American taxpayer dollars to squander however it damned well pleases, gleefully assigns agents, special agents, alienated partisans (the equivalent of Antifa, proud boys, BLM, oath keepers and the like on steroids) and even unpaid interns to keep the pot boiling anywhere and everywhere on the chance that the efforts will overturn Mr. Putin’s and Mr. Xi’s efforts to keep their societies and their patches of this vast planet under some semblance of peace and order–a genuine law based order, not the charade that Washington employs under the phony bologna they call their “rules based order.”

    Putin’s greatest fault, say his honest analysts, is his trust in the West to adhere to the laws and agreements they assumedly make in good faith but then turn around and immediately violate without compunction! The Minsk Accords were absolutely typical of how the West repeatedly played Putin for a sucker, whilst he assiduously tried to adhere to written signed agreements because HIS word was his bond. And Joe Biden? He’s the absolute worst, a real gangster, shamelessly using his own family to perpetrate his many crimes. Putin, in all his time in office, has been more faithful to both the letter and spirit of Western justice than anyone ruling out of Washington or from the capitals of its many straight-jacketed vassals.

    I think that fairly well encapsulates the quandary of trying to co-exist on this planet with the imperial warmongers ensconced in Washington who, I might add, are equally ruthless in “governing” their own people. American foreign policy is only one subset of Washington’s tyrannical malpractice that is repeatedly a far cry from the official operating procedures outlined in its constitution. The oppressors in charge seem bound and determined to crash it all, and relatively soon.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      March 2, 2023 at 19:38

      Couldn’t help but agree entirely with over 80% of your well percolated comments. You are right about the Turkic hostility to some Armenians but to assume that the Turks in their entirely are out to uproot Armenia itself is going a bit too far. So too is the situation in Georgia. The current tensions in and around those countries have as much if not more to do with geoeconomics and diplomatic upmanship as with domestic politics and geopolitics. Putin is a born-again christian on the rebound from atheism and Biden is a closet-Christian apostate increasingly hooked to Satan-misled neo-liberal globalism. The Russian leadership have learnt the current American elite landscape quite well and know only too well that they have no sane souls to deal with on anything there right now. If such a leadership is berating countries and regions that are attempting merely to survive by wisely trying to rebalance their alignments, then it shouldn’t be too surprising. By the way that was a rather reasonable and balanced write-up by Kasradze there. Kudos to him too.

  6. mgr
    March 1, 2023 at 13:45

    All of America’s vassal states are essentially cannon fodder. The US says it’s time for Georgia to stand up. Or bend over, as the case may be. The “Western Paradise” they are sold is a mirage and it’s not hard to imagine that the elites who are promoting this mirage are self-serving opportunists. This is also what happened in Ukraine. Zelenski, after all, was overwhelmingly elected on his promise to bring peace to Ukraine. That, in itself, was never acceptable to the US nor to Ukraine’s neo-fascist elements. It seems again that these country’s peoples are being badly used by their leaders, supported by hateful elements in society, and crushing any aspirations for peace. War mongers are war mongers. They drape themselves in one nationalistic cause or another but they do it for the lust and profit, most of the time keeping themselves out of harm’s way. War mongers are the bane of humanity.

    • TP Graf
      March 2, 2023 at 05:55

      Well said. And you know Georgia is in trouble when the author suggests “…the West must take the high road and de-escalate the political climate,” and how Georgia depends on back channels of “robust diplomacy.” Across the globe, even our ambassadors to these countries no longer communicate context, history and risks back to Washington. They have become little more than the threat police for communicating red lines, threats and intimidation. Bend over or else….

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