Tensions remain high between Russia and Georgia, especially over the
breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Georgia's
bid to become part of NATO. In this report from Washington, Senior
Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at why Georgia is so important for
Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been
strained ever since Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president of
Georgia more than four years ago following a popular movement known as
the "Rose Revolution." And in January of this year, Mr. Saakashvili was
re-elected, saying he would pursue many of the policies he began during
his first term in office.
Sources of tensions
Analysts say many of the tensions
between Tbilisi and Moscow can be attributed to Mr. Saakashvili's
pro-western policies, including his goal of membership in the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization - or NATO. During a recent trip to
Georgia, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated Washington's
support for Georgia's NATO membership bid.
opposes Georgia's desire to become a NATO member. Jason Lyall with
Princeton University (Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs) says Russia's strong opposition is part of President Dmitri
Medvedev's robust foreign policy.
"To imagine this from a
Russian perspective, you would now have a Georgia inside NATO," he
said. "And Georgia borders unto Chechnya. And it is very hard to think
of a more sensitive issue for Russians than Chechnya. And now you would
have NATO membership right on its doorstep in the north Caucasus."
this is caught up with that. It is also caught up now with [President]
Medvedev's desire to show a more strident Russian foreign policy, a
more prestige-seeking policy. This would be a huge blow to his regime
if NATO could move this close into what are considered vital Russian
national interests," he continued.
Another major source of
friction between Georgia and Russia is the issue of the breakaway,
separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - two regions within
Georgia, but bordering Russia. They declared their independence from
Tbilisi in the early 1990s.
President Saakashvili has vowed to
restore Georgia's territorial integrity by bringing them back into the
fold. But analysts say little progress has been accomplished in that
area, especially since Russia has been increasing economic and
political ties with the two regions.
Why is Georgia so important?
Experts say the West is
looking with interest and concern at developments in Georgia,
especially as President Saakashvili tries to consolidate democratic
gains there. Svante Cornell is with Stockholm's Institute for Security
and Development Policy.
"After the 'Rose Revolution' four years
ago, Georgia has truly been the country in the former Soviet bloc,
after the Baltic states in the early 1990s, to thoroughly remake their
country, to reform and to install a democratic government that is a
functioning independent state - although there is, of course, a long
way to go before Georgia consolidates its democracy," he said.
has made tremendous progress and has become a model and a symbol of
what can actually be achieved - in anti-corruption and democracy
building. And Russia doesn't like that. But for the West, of course, if
Georgia fails, if Georgia is allowed to fall, this means that any hopes
that we may have of democracy building in this part of the world, in
this south-eastern corner of Europe, is going to fail," he added.
Many experts, including Ronald Suny from the University of Chicago, say Georgia is important to the West for another reason.
a corridor - a very important corridor - for oil from the Caspian
region going to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean through Turkey," he
said. "So it's now an area that has become economically important as
Role U.S. plays
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States
has provided Georgia with considerable aid to support its political and
economic reforms. Svante Cornell says Washington has a lot at stake in
"Across the region, from Ukraine over the Caucasus to
Central Asia, there is no country in which the United States has
invested so much of its prestige as in Georgia - which means that if
suddenly Georgia is allowed to fail and if the United States does not
stand up for Georgia and Georgia's integrity and security, every
government from Kiev to Tashkent will draw the conclusion that the
United States is not a serious partner. And in that sense, for a very
long time, it will undermine U.S. interests in the whole of Eurasia,"
Cornell and other analysts say the United States and
other western nations could play an important diplomatic role in
defusing tensions between Russia and Georgia in order to keep the
situation in that volatile region from spiraling out of control.