Russia’s Georgia Problem One Year On
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
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The long-awaited report on the 2008 Russia-Georgia war prepared
by a European Union commission did not create a sensation. It was
written in true European political style, purposefully avoiding
sharp conclusions or extremes and taking a balanced approach. What
conclusion can be drawn following its publication?

First, Moscow’s decision to recognize the independence of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains irreversible for the foreseeable
future. An about-face on that position would cause so much harm to
Russia’s prestige that Moscow has no choice but to support those
two regions at whatever financial and political cost it might

For the time being, however, those costs are not very high.
Today’s leading global players do not have the resources to bring
much pressure against Russia. This became particularly clear when
the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly did not support the
motion to deny voting rights to the Russian delegation. Of course,
Georgia will continue to use every means at its disposal — the
United Nations, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in
Europe, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization — to
influence affairs, but it is unlikely that Tbilisi will be able to
cause serious political damage to Moscow.

One area where Russia can expect some headaches is from within
Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Abkhazia is strengthening its sense of
national identification, and South Ossetia is bogged down by
corruption and a weak and ineffective government.

Second, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has lost any
prospects for significant international support. After losing the
war with Russia, he has tried to restore his legitimacy by arguing
that the military operation in South Ossetia was necessary to repel
a Russian invasion. But the EU commission report, despite its broad
criticisms of Russia’s actions, did not support that version of
events. As long as Saakashvili remains in office, he can expect to
receive only symbolic economic and political support from the

Third, the international organizations called on to settle the
conflict have proven ineffective. The OSCE is unlikely to regain
its reputation of being an effective intermediary. The organization
could neither prevent nor halt the war. There is a chance that the
OSCE will play some role in the so-called “Corfu Process,” which
was initiated to discuss the Russian idea of forming a new
architecture for European security. But no clear-cut idea of that
process yet exists. In addition, the United Nations should be the
leading international force, but its activity is fettered by the
requirement that all decisions be reached through a consensus among
member states. That is unrealistic. Moscow and Tbilisi are
incapable of speaking to each other about anything. Finally, the
EU, a relatively new player in the region, is taking the lead in
the South Caucasus area.

Because the EU commission’s report was intentionally written so
as to distance itself from events in the Caucasus, it can claim to
be a neutral intermediary. Thanks to efforts by French President
Nicolas Sarkozy to resolve the crisis one year ago, the EU gained a
diplomatic foothold in the region that it does not want to lose. By
maintaining peace between Georgia and its neighbors, the EU will
reap political dividends and greater international status.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been less
active in the former Soviet republics. This does not mean that the
South Caucasus is no longer a priority for the United States. More
likely, Washington has not fully formulated its Iran policy. Iran
is a key factor in the region because any radical change in the
country will have serious repercussions for the Caspian Sea area,
the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The changes brought on by the Russia-Georgia war opened up new
possibilities for Turkey, and all sides are willing for Ankara to
play a new role in the Caucasus. Europe and the United States are
on friendly terms with Turkey, and Russia always prefers that
regional powers resolve problems in their own region without
bringing in outside forces. That is especially true now, when
Russian-Turkish relations are improving. But the question is how
far do Turkish ambitions extend? The developing relationship
between Ankara and Yerevan, as well as the course Turkey will
pursue with Abkhazia — a people with whom the Turks are ethnically
and historically close — will determine the limits of Russia’s

The 2008 war shook up the entire post-Soviet territory.
Political and diplomatic activity surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict has clearly entered a new phase. Too many major interests
cannot be fulfilled as a result of the Karabakh deadlock. But it is
becoming more probable that Karabakh will have a status in some way
separate from Azerbaijan, and that the compromise will consist of
discussing the fates of neighboring regions, but not that of
Nagorno-Karabakh itself.

Events in Moldova, where a pro-European coalition has come to
power, also offer food for thought. Although the young
generation of Moldovan politicians was born in the unified Moldovan
Soviet Socialist Republic, their conscious life and social activity
began after the country was divided. For them, the idea of
restoring Transdnestr is not such a high priority as it was for
former President Vladimir Voronin. The unresolved question of unity
blocks the prospects for joining Europe, particularly since
Tiraspol, the administrative center of Transdnestr, historically
was not in they Romanian part of Moldova. Thus, the question
remains: Does it make sense to join the European Union without the
other bank of the Dniestr or to reunite with unclear

Despite the flare-up in the information war this August, the
one-year anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict showed that the
situation in the conflict zone is fairly stable. Russia’s
unilateral recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia created a political problem that Moscow will have to deal
with for years to come, but at the same time it has also precluded
the possibility of renewed military activity in the near

Although the Russia-Georgia war allowed pent-up tensions to
vent, it did not resolve a single problem that had created those
tensions in the first place.

«The Moscow Times»