On April 15th, the Civic IDEA hosted the first webinar on COVID19 Crisis Security Challenges. Webinar speakers were: Tedo Japaridze, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia; Edvinas Kerza, Lithuanian Deputy Minister of Defense; Alexandr Vondra, Member of the European Parliament & former Czech Defense Minister; Roman Jakic, former Slovenian Defense Minister and Sebastian Vagt, Head of the Security Hub of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
The webinar was moderated by Tinatin Khidasheli, the chairperson of the Civic IDEA.
Checking the COVID-19 map, finding out the
numbers of new cases and death toll have become the regular part of the daily
routine for all Georgians and undoubtedly, all residents of the world. This is
our new reality, the new normal. However, apart from the perfectly comprehensible
and ordinary human emotion accompanying these statistics, what do these numbers
tell us? What do they show?
The developments surrounding
“COVID-19” are exemplary and we get the best experience, not just to
better understand and analyze the public healthcare or the crisis response/management
systems, and plan a better tomorrow, but also to combat disinformation, more
precisely, information manipulation.
If we agree that the world is at war today,
we should see that this war, like all other modern wars, is hybrid, where,
along with the invisible biological threat, the theater of war is spread across
the information space. Each message has its addressee and has a specific task.
The goal is far-reaching and strategic:
the advantages of one-party, authoritarian rule!
the world, that where democracy is powerless, one-man rule with a strong hand
Nowadays, we can unequivocally highlight,
that the Russian-Chinese misinformation machine is gradually gaining strength
and preparing for a deadly attack on liberal democratic rule. The fragmented
statements of the democratic world leaders (i.e. US president’s and
Washington’s claims about China’s concealment of the information on the
complexity and the scale of virus spread), are unable to stop the flood of
misinformation operating, using diversified weapons in social networks and
popular internet resources.
We must remember!
Every time, when we use the data from
pandemic map without the context, without analyzing the dynamics of the spread,
the proportion and comparison to the country population, or other
characteristics, we become the useful resource for Russian-Chinese disinformation
machinery, and involuntarily serve their goals.
Against the general believe, Numbers Do
Lie every time we use them unaware of the context and foundation. Statistics
becomes the most exemplary and ideal retainer of misinformation if we refuse to
analyze and guide with bare numbers.
The simplest example:
What does 25 percent mean? Is it a lot or
few? The only thing we can confidently say is that 25 percent is a quarter. And
that is it. Everything else is unknown unless we know what is it percentage of,
what we compare it to in search of magnitude or scarcity, or where it came
from. Such 25, 31, 19 percent are respectively generated daily on the
battlefield of COVID-19; they are only intended for our emotional state and
exacerbate panic, though in reality the percentage or a plain number says
nothing about prevention or development dynamics. However, daily, these
statistics create hundreds of information manipulation examples for researchers
and other people interested in the field.
Let us follow the events and recall some
important facts that are critical to remember while analyzing these events.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
unequivocally states that all data going into their system and then spreading
over is based on information provided by states and that there is no standard
format to validate it instantly.
In short, the data we check daily, hoping
that it will be reduced, downgraded, viruses retreated, and so on, are
controlled and provided by states individually. Consequently, it precisely portrays
their system and culture of governance.
The International Classification of
Diseases (ICD), applied by the World Health Organization today, was adopted in
1992, and its critics’ main argument for years has been that “in the
absence of uniform criteria for diagnostics, coding, and classification” the
compatibility and comparability of information provided by states is difficult
or almost non-existent.
To put it simply, there is no uniform
standard in the field of diagnostics, disease coding or data dissemination / distribution
applicable and used by all nations; so accordingly, it is entirely up to the
decision of a particular country to document and transmit the scale of the
disease to the relevant international organizations, as it fits their national
Once again, in the absence of a unified
standard, and the inability to control and check the data provided, compatibility
of states’ calculated information is minimal, and the comparison of this data
is close to abstract.
The inability of the WHO to control and
monitor provided data is not the only drawback. The other problem is that the
main grounds of information dissemination has become the calendar day, which
also contributes to information manipulation. For instance, the data from
European countries is compared to the data from China on March 29, while we
have almost two months delay in spreading and fighting the virus. Precisely
because of that difference in time, we face the huge difference and the
corresponding reactions concerning the inability of democracies to effectively
In short, the comparison of Italy’s march
29 statistics with the Georgian or Chinese data of the same day would be
considered as an text book example of information manipulation, since such a
comparison of numbers only indicates, how many people are infected or dead that
particular day and it has absolutely nothing to do with the dynamics of the
spread or the effectiveness / ineffectiveness of prevention or fighting the threat.
Many more imperative facts can be recalled,
such as the proportion to the population (as shown in the US example), the
tourism factor (best seen in the Italian case), the efficient and dynamic
business environment (best seen in the NYC) and others, though based only on
these three factors, it is feasible to do an analysis.
Meanwhile we should not forget that in
January and early February’20, leading media outlets, citing multiple sources
and leaning on the narrations of eyewitnesses, were reporting how the Chinese
Communist Party was actively pursuing all whistleblowers and reporters about
What is an emotional picture we observe
today, due to the number juggling and manipulation marathon, ignoring most
important factors for analysis: the
situation is extremely difficult in Western democracies – in the United States
and in the most of the EU states, while authoritarian or so-called “semi-free”
countries effectively deal with the threat. This is a daily message we
should remember and talk about.
In today’s world, when information is the
main weaponry at the battlefield, understanding the truth is never
as easy as it might seem on a daily map at the outbreak of a pandemic. In spite
of the great human tragedies and the most severe emotional backdrop that has
plagued humanity today, we must still strive not to lose common sense and
reasoning – the ability to generalize that tomorrow, when the virus becomes the
part of the history, we do not surrender our freedom and turn it to a
dictatorship or strong-man’s rule.
Tinatin Khidasheli is the founder and chairman
of the Civic IDEA, the non-governmental organization working on the security
issues. One of the main focuses of IDEA’s work is research and monitoring of
Russian and Chinese influence operations.
The once high-flying Chinese conglomerate CEFC has suffered n the last years a series of devastating setbacks on a global scale. Last week, a trial opened in New York involving the head of CEFC’s non-profit wing (China Energy Fund Committee), and the former Hong Kong politician Patrick Ho, arrested in November 2017 in the U.S. and indicted for high-level corruption in the United Nations and Africa. Shortly after Ho’s arrest, his direct supervisor and Chairman of both the non-profit and the main commercial company CEFC China, Ye Jianming, disappeared in China, presumably investigated by the Communist Party’s disciplinary machinery. The only direct mention of him since his disappearance has been a CCTV report accusing him of bribing the provincial Party Secretary in Gansu.
A detailed investigative report in the respected financial portal Caixin published, and quickly censored, on 1 March, described CEFC business practices as essentially a complex Ponzi scheme, based on fictitious transactions among CEFC’s many branches and affiliates in order to inflate trade volume and raise credit from Chinese banks.
This spectacular corporate and political downfall made headlines in mainstream media around the world. Yet there remain places seemingly unaffected by the whole fiasco where CEFC manages to keep going as though nothing happened. In the Czech Republic, the disgraced CEFC Chairman Jianming remains an advisor to President Milos Zeman, despite his conspicuous absence. In the United Nations, CEFC non-profit arm involved in the bribery of not one, but a whole series of UN General Assembly Presidents, keeps its affiliated NGO status in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), without so much as an investigation proposed into its activities in the global organization.
Yet the one place where CEFC is making its last stand without much notice from either the local public or the international community is Georgia. The story of CEFC activities in the country is as grotesque as anywhere – and still ongoing.
An agreement was reached at the meeting to hold a Georgia-China Investment Forum the following month in Shanghai. The meeting was attended by the founder and Chairman of CEFC China Ye Jianming, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, and several government ministers. In an official photograph accompanying the press release, one face that didn’t quite fit: tucked in the corner of the conference table was a person with no obvious capacity to attend.
The face belonged to the colorful personality of Ivane Chkhartishvili. For the next two years, Chkhartishvili would become a regular feature in photographs and both media and official reports from meetings and other events involving CEFC and other Chinese entities, apparently enjoying exclusive government support in the budding Georgian-Chinese relationship.
In Georgia, Ivane (“Vano”) Chkhartishvili is a person of some notoriety. After a career in the Soviet-time Komsomol, he became the first Deputy State Minister and later Minister of Economy in the government of Eduard Shevardnadze, formed after the paramilitary coup in 1992 that brought former communists back to power for eleven years on end. This period was marked by police brutality, torture and corruption. It was during this time that Minister Chkhartishvili founded the United Georgian Bank, which took over the savings of ordinary Georgians previously held in the Soviet Savings Bank (Sberbank).
In his rather flattering and apparently outdated biography on Wikipedia, Chkhartishvili is portrayed as a fighter against corruption. That is not the public image he enjoys in Georgia, as a cursory check of both mainstream and social media posts quickly reveals. Among other things, he is widely believed to have accumulated his wealth by essentially privatizing Georgians’ savings from the Soviet times (totalling $8 billion by some estimates) through his United Georgian Bank. (For a detailed report, see “Legal Analysis of Soviet and post-Soviet Savings“ by the Association of Young Barristers of Georgia, June 2013.)
In 2002, the Georgian opposition movement and civil society began a massive, peaceful campaign called “Enough,” aiming for a regime change after 11 years of corrupt government run by ex-Communists, regrouped in the political party Civic Union led by Shevardnadze, Gorbachev’s last Foreign Minister in the Soviet Union. The two names most forcefully denounced in the protests were the Minister of Interior Kakha Targamadze, a personification of the regime’s brutality, and the Minister of Economy Ivane Chkhartishvili, the face of its corruption. The movement culminated with the Rose Revolution that brought to power a younger generation of Georgian politicians led by Mikhael (“Misha“) Saakashvili with the stated aim of ending corruption and establishing the rule of law.
After the Rose Revolution, Chkhartishvili promptly fled Georgia alleging political persecution, and relocated to London. He didn’t avoid controversy there either, and became embroiled in numerous court cases after the death of his business partner, another London-based expat and at that point the wealthiest Georgian, Badri Patarkatsishvili.
In 2012, Saakashvili‘s increasingly arbitrary rule came to an end with the electoral victory by the coalition of opposition parties called Georgian Dream, running mainly on anti-repression agenda. Georgian Dream (GD), led by the billionaire and now richest man in Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili, promised restoration of rights to all victims of Saakashvili’s abuses, including businessmen who had lost property due to extortion, blackmail and illegal pressure from law enforcement. Chkhartishvili was among those who returned to Georgia to claim justice. Unlike the vast majority of victims, he actually succeeded in getting back significant parts of his property during the first years of the GD government. The secret of this extraordinary success came to light in November this year, when Ivanishvili confided in an interview that he had been supporting Chkhartishvili all along.
The story remains one of the most popular topics in the Georgian media to this day.
Five Million Bottles of Wine
Given CEFC’s habit of engaging with controversial interlocutors, highlighted by the Patrick Ho’s corruption case in New York, it is perhaps not surprising that Chkhartishvili ended up playing such a prominent role in the conglomerate‘s offensive in Georgia. The CEFC story in Georgia stays true to their record elsewhere in other respects as well.
CEFC has been promising investments of hundreds of millions in Georgia for more than two years now. Expectations are kept high by frequent MOUs, but so far the country has seen no real results, and given the company’s current state, it is hard to imagine any forthcoming in the future. The only party that seems to have handsomely benefited from the relationship is Ivane Chkhartishvili.
There have been three big projects announced by CEFC and their Georgian partners. Contracts have been signed, announcements made, yet nothing happened. According to a MOU signed on 14 May 2017 at the high-level Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, CEFC committed $1 billion for a new Chinese commercial bank. This seems consistent with CEFC’s efforts to establish or acquire banks in places like the Czech Republic (J&T Bank) and Uganda (Crane Bank and Bank Africa). After a year and a half, however, no specific steps followed, and the project appears dead in the water.
On the same day, also at the Belt and Road Forum, an even more ambitious undertaking was announced: the creation of the National Fund for Georgia’s Reconstruction, in cooperation between the Georgian Partnership Fund and CEFC. The Reconstruction Fund was supposed to be in place in the fall of 2017. The Georgian Partnership Fund, with the consent of the Government of Georgia, authorized an initial capital injection of $25 million as the Georgian share. The CEFC share apparently never arrived.
Neither the Bank investment nor the Reconstruction Fund saw the light of the day, yet nobody asks any questions about the bombastic presentations from only a year ago. The third megaproject, CEFC’s “investment“ in the Poti industrial zone in the west of the country, likewise faded away.
In October 2016, Georgian Deputy PM Qumsishvili, then Minister of Economy, argued in the parliament that the Poti Free Industrial Zone (Poti FIZ), the first such economic zone in the region, was worth $100 million, and an investment package was discussed worth $600 millions. Almost exactly a year later, on 18 September 2017, the newly-appointed Minister of Economy Giorgi Gakharia handed over 75 percent of Poti FIZ to CEFC for $10 million, on the condition of $150 million in future investment. While the $10 million for the 75 percent stake appear to have been paid, there is no information about the promised investment, or indeed any activities in the Poti FIZ.
In July 2016, the Georgia – China Investment Forum was held in Shanghai on the heels of the initial government meeting with CEFC in Tbilisi, attended by deputy Prime Minister Qumsishvili, cabinet members, and of course Chkhartishvili. The Forum was a typical PRC arrangement where business is discussed in a high-level political setting, allowing high-ranking party officials to freely mingle with their select champions from the business world. The Georgian deputy PM talked up the potential of his country’s agro-industrial sector and pitched a $7 billion investment portfolio to his Chinese counterparts. Chkhartishvili was conveniently at hand to exemplify that potential with the Shilda Trading company, which indeed promptly signed an MOU with Beijing Er Shang Group to import Georgian wine to China. Shilda happens to be a family-owned firm run by Natia and Mikheil Chkhartishvili, Ivane Chkhartishvili’s children.
Signing ceremony at the Georgia – China Business Forum in Shanghai, in July 2016. Image via Sinopsis.
According to Georgian media, reporting on the deal in January 2017, “this transaction, part of a contract signed by Mikheil and Natia Chkhartishvili, is of unprecedented scale, as it is almost equal to the total volume of wine exported from Georgia to China in 2016.”
Specifically, Shilda was to export 5 million bottles of Georgian wine to the Chinese market over the next three years. By being in the right place at the right moment, and of course with the right political backing, the Chkhartishvili family got to monopolize the country’s main export to China, at least on paper.
Beijing Er Shang Group is a company featuring in other countries where CEFC was trying to set up shop. In the Czech Republic, it was involved in a similarly politicized business relationship brokered by the former Governor of South Moravian Region, Michal Hasek. Er Shang was supposed to purchase Moravian wine at the value of 4 million euros ($4,53 billion)in 2016-17. In 2018, it was revealed that apart from samples, not a bottle of Moravian wine had been sold to China through Beijing Er Shang, and the company simply cut off all communication with their Czech counterparts.
Chkhartishvili’s Shilda may have had better luck with the Chinese company, judging by wine export figures. In 2016, total wine exports to China from Georgia amounted to 4,886,145 bottles. In 2017, the figure rose to 7,585,407 bottles, with the increase possibly attributable to Shilda. Yet in 2018, the exports are down again by some 25 percent, close to the starting level.
Another opportunity to mix business with politics came with the 25th anniversary of Georgia-China diplomatic relations, commemorated in Beijing in the summer of 2017 with an event again dominated by Chkhartishvili. This time, Vano Chkhartishvili was represented not just as a businessman, but also by his charitable foundation Georgian Chant, which sponsored the event. Incidentally, a year later, in July 2018, Georgian Prime Minister Bakhtadze issued a government decree granting $55,115 from the state budget to Georgian Chant for “covering various expenses”. No details were provided, but in the absence of other evidence it is entirely plausible that Georgian tax payers subsidized Chkhartishvili’s “charity” at a politicized event that benefited his business interests.
A Partnership with China at Both Ends
Apart from Ivane Chkhartishvili, the other major interlocutor for CEFC and related China business in Georgia is David Saganelidze, head of the state-run Partnership Fund. Saganelidze has a long and productive history with Chkhartishvili. Hailing from the same Soviet-time Komsomol structures, Saganelidze is a former MP and the Georgian Dream Majority Leader in the parliament from 2012 to 2016. Before entering politics, Saganelidze made his fortune in business during Chkhartishvili’s ministerial times.
The Partnership Fund he heads was created specifically for the purpose of attracting foreign investors, facilitating their activities in Georgia and promoting Georgian business abroad. According to official reports, it was the Partnership Fund that brought CEFC and other Chinese companies to Georgia and assisted them in their local endeavors.
Concurrently with his position as CEO of Georgia’s Partnership Fund, Saganelidze has since 2016 also been an advisor to Huahe International, a Xinjiang-based company established by a former government official named Liu Chuanwu. In March 2016, Georgian media reported that Huahe International and the Partnership Fund signed a Memorandum of Understanding for “Strengthening Trade Relations Between Georgia-China, Business Development and Investment”. This would seem to put Saganelidze and the Partnership Fund in an apparent conflict of interest, obscuring whom he was actually representing in negotiating the cooperation MOU.
Such oddity is quite typical of the kind of arrangements that Chinese nominally private companies like CEFC often enter into. In the Czech Republic, a “Sino-Czech Center for Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative” was introduced in July 2017 at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) under arrangements first disclosed by Sinopsis, and only made public through an FOIA request from local journalists. In a set-up somewhat reminiscent of the 16+1 arrangement, the Center is managed in Beijing at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a super-ministry previously known as the Planning Commission. The implementation on the Czech side was ceded by the MTI to a private lobby group, the Mixed Czech-China Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is headed by Jaroslav Tvrdik, former Defense Minister, and Stefan Fule, former Czech Euro-Commissioner. Both of them also represented CEFC Europe, the Czech branch of CEFC China, and now CITIC Europe, local subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned investment colossus that takes over from the troubled CEFC. (Tvrdik concurrently serves as an advisor to Czech President Zeman). PRC interest thus stands at both ends of the mutual Czech – China relationship, giving new meaning to the ubiquitous phrase win-win.
Further contributing to the web of incestuous liaisons was the appointment of former Georgian PM Irakli Gharibashvili as a CEFC advisor. Curiously, Gharibashvili joined CEFC only in February 2018. By that time, the company was already deep in trouble: Chairman Jianming diappeared at about that time, and Patrick Ho had been arrested three months earlier. Incredibly, despite all the media attention that the spectacular demise of CEFC attracted internationally, in Georgia, nobody seems to have noticed. In local media and public discourse, CEFC still features as a fabulously rich investor that will save Georgia from its economic predicament.
That wishful thinking might now be in for some unpleasant surprises.
“The discourse of fear, separation, hate, and delegitimization harms society’s unity and solidarity. This discourse has intensified in recent years against the backdrop of widespread use of social media. The disparity between rich and poor also harms national resilience” –Moshe Ya’alon, former MODof the Israel Defense Forces. Today, I am introducing you that dimension of Resiliencethat was addressed by the former MODof Israel within his letter,namely, “Societal Resilience”, in order to fight ofthe external threats. Meanwhile, I will try todistinctly explain the significance ofcommunication in terms of the resilience quality increment.
“Cost of Conflict: Core Dimensions of the Georgian-South Ossetian Context” is an analytical publication which presents diverse views of Georgian, South Ossetian and international experts. Georgian and South Ossetain peacebuilders worked together with George Mason University and the Alliance for Conflict Transformation, and with the financial support of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund by the UK government and the United States Agency for International Development, to create an analytical publication that examines the costs of this conflict.
Tornike Sharashenidze’s opinion on Georgia’s policy towards Abkhazia is significant and noteworthy, especially as it seems to have been shared by quite a large portion of the Georgian society. The author criticizes the Georgian policy for being excessively sentimental, appeasing and making unreasonable concessions and calls for a more pragmatic approach. But as an ordinary reader, I am left with an impression that the article too is not entirely free of emotions (something criticized by the author himself). The feelings of grudge, anger, and frustration are just the other side of the coin and need to be restrained in politics.
Let’s take a deeper look at the author’s main arguments.
Argument 1. Since the mid-1990s of the last century Georgia has been carrying out a policy of positive discrimination, or unilateral concessions, in relation to Abkhazia, which has yielded few positive results.
Unilateral concessions include agreeing to supply power to Abkhazia from the Georgian-controlled territory for free, free access to medical services for the Abkhaz in Georgian healthcare facilities, and offers of wide autonomy. Is it true? Only partially.
Let’s begin with the free-of-charge power supply to Abkhazia. As a matter of fact, neither Georgia nor Abkhazia are able to use the Enguri Hydroelectric Power Plant without coordinating and cooperating with each other, due to the geography and the technical parameters of this facility. In other words, the issue has nothing to do with altruistic motivation. It should be acknowledged, however, that Tbilisi seems capable to induce Abkhazia to agree to terms favorable to the Georgian side. But if it is a purely political decision, the population of Abkhazia at least must be informed about it.
The referral healthcare program, or free access to medical services in Georgian hospitals for residents of the occupied territories, i.e. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is another point raised in the article. But the program started not in the 1990s but much later, just six or seven years ago. To be sure, free medical treatment has motivated nobody so far to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity, a point highlighted by Mr. Sharashenidze. But there is a more important question – is it really in Georgia’s interest to incorporate the people who are willing to discard their “national projects” in return for free appendectomy? Such programs usually have two objectives: purely humanitarian and – let’s be frank – political. They can change attitudes and they really do, but, quite naturally, it is a very long, gradual and difficult process. Fundamental changes require much more than that – which I will outline below.
As to the Georgian government’s offer of wider autonomy for Abkhazia, it has been on the table for quite a long time. At some point, Shevardnadze and Ardzinba were quite close to a consensus, but an agreement never materialized due to various reasons. After winning the war Abkhazia had much higher ambitions than wide autonomy, while Georgia was not ready to accept a confederation-like federal state project.
Let’s put aside for a moment the thorny issue of Abkhazia’s political status and put forward a rhetorical, albeit fundamental, question – why should Abkhazia feel attracted to reunification, or at least rapprochement, with a country from which thousands have migrated to different parts of the world in search of a better life, where “compromise” is still just a mere word for the political elite rarely followed by any deeds, and where minorities remain underrepresented in government? What motivation can Abkhazia possibly have to reunite with, or at least turn towards, such a country?
Besides, the author seems to have overlooked the Georgian government’s other activities, which were implemented along with the above-mentioned concessions. I think it would be useful to recall some of them: Shevardnadze government’s attempt to fuel insurgency in Gali in May 1998 in an effort to tilt the status-quo in Georgia’s favor; Georgia-backed raid to the Kodori Gorge in 2001 by a Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev’s forces, which can be seen as yet another unsuccessful endeavor to break the stalemate by military means; the economic blockade of Abkhazia, in effect until the late1990s, which was imposed by CIS at Georgia’s request – something the Abkhaz people will hardly forget; the May 2004 escalation in the Tskhinvali Region, dubbed as a “humanitarian assault” – although these events took place in South Ossetia, it does not take too much guessing as to who would have been the “next recipient,” if the government’s operation had been successful – which surely set alarm bells ringing in Sukhumi; the Georgian operation in Kodori in 2006 with subsequent renaming of the region into Upper Abkhazia; and finally the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. Although this last has many dimensions, it is obvious that the Georgian perception of that war is by far different from how it is viewed in Sukhumi, which hardly has any incentive to put the issue into the context of “sentimental politics”.
That said, I would like to emphasize that no Georgian government in the post-independent period has demonstrated a coherent and consistent conflict resolution policy, whether consistently militaristic, consistently peaceful or consistently inclined towards concessions. Georgia’s approach – I cannot but agree with Tornike here – has always been overly emotional, with sentiments swinging widely from first declaring the Abkhaz people “aliens” who migrated to Georgia from the North Caucasus just a few hundred years ago and calling the very same Abkhaz residents “brothers” and “sisters” on the next day. Argument 2. Another major theme of the article is the prospect of Abkhaz-Georgian reconciliation. The author argues that the Abkhaz society must be more interested in finding common ground with the Georgians because Georgia can survive without Abkhazia, while the latter will hardly make it without us. Consequently, it is Abkhazia, not Georgia, which should make the first steps towards reconciliation.
Indeed, the Abkhaz “national project” has been increasingly beset by numerous problems, particularly in more recent times. Corruption has become endemic, economic growth seems to have stalled, prospects of integrating ethnic Armenian and Georgian communities into Abkhazia’s political life remain as vague as ever, just as the prospects of international recognition, as the number of countries willing to recognize Abkhazia’s independence has fallen, rather than increased. Finally, and most importantly, Russia’s military, economic and political dominance in Abkhazia has been steadily growing and this trend seems unlikely to abate in the near future. Paradoxically, Abkhazia’s sovereignty has been gradually weakening ever since it was recognized by Moscow.
Unlike Abkhazia, Georgia has managed to gradually recover – although it was a long, painful and bumpy path – from the chaos of the tumultuous 1990s, passed through Saakashvili’s modernization era, changed government in a democratic manner, through elections, and essentially, as well as institutionally (by means of the association agreement with EU), is steadily getting closer to being a truly European democracy.
In other words, Georgia’s development model looks much more viable than that of Abkhazia, at least at the present stage. Although it is a view that I and Tornike certainly share, we, nevertheless, draw different conclusions. It was exactly our strong sense of European identity, pro-European way of national thinking, and our success on the path of democratization set the stage for bolder and more daring policy initiatives on Abkhazia. We should spare no effort for goodwill gestures to help the Abkhaz people feel the difference between the European and Eurasian development models, like we do. I think this is the only way for Georgia to mend fences with Abkhazia and win the Abkhaz people’s hearts and minds.
Otherwise, what motivation can an ordinary Abkhaz, egocentric, unwilling to assume responsibility for Abkhazia, and anything but a well-wisher for Georgia, possibly have? Conclusion
Georgia’s policy towards Abkhazia should be neither “lovey-dovey” nor resentful (though between this two the former is surely a better choice). It should be based on Georgia’s own or other countries’ experience and guided by a pragmatic and rational analysis. International experience (e.g. Cyprus) shows that the central government’s proper and efficient development policy can become a powerful incentive for a separatist region, even occupied by a foreign power, to consider restoring broken ties.
In the context of our region and the problem of Abkhazia, such changes can be inspired by the following developments: a) Georgia continues on a path of successful democratic and socio-economic reforms; b) minorities get adequate representation in both central and local-level government (something the Abkhaz and Ossetian people will certainly take note of). And finally, Georgia’s GDP should be at least double that of Russia (Georgia’s main rival in Abkhazia), while the Georgian government’s investments to Abkhazia should not be less than public spending in other similarly-sized Georgian regions.
Ensuring Georgia’s successful development and giving Abkhazia an opportunity to benefit from the Georgian progress is the only formula to bring the prospect of rebuilding a common Abkhaz-Georgian state from an emotional to a political level.