While the Russian election interference debacle has overwhelmed the national dialogue, an unrelated anniversary involving the Russians is upon us. This year marks ten years since Russian forces invaded Georgia and the subsequent occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Although Russia still asserts its hegemony over these bitterly divided areas, media attention over the Georgia-Russia conflict has disappeared over time.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly and current Georgian Ambassador to the United States David Bakradze discussed this situation in Georgia as well as the strengthening ties between the Georgian and American governments Monday at the Department of Political Science’s 2018 Barry Farrell Lecture.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also joined the discussion via video from Capitol Hill. Klobuchar observed firsthand the effect of Russian interference in Georgia during her December 2016 tour of Eastern Europe.
“Russia continues to undermine Georgia and other countries, and chip away what was hard-fought and hard-won,” Klobuchar said. “We know that Russian troops helped separatist forces fight the Georgian government. We know that Georigans aren’t going to stop fighting for their country.” Klobuchar emphasized American support for Georgia's global ambitions as well as the need to counter Russian influence in the region.
Both ambassadors gave a speech on American-Georgian ties, discussing how Georgia and the United States can cooperate in aiding Georgia in its diplomatic conflict against Russia as well as in their desires to join the European Union (EU) and NATO.
”Russia has two main goals: prevent other satellites form leaving Moscow's orbit, and doing a lot to prevent the emergence of successful democracies among their states,” Kelly said. “Putin does not want the Russian people to see that democracy can succeed in the former Soviet states. Russia disparages Western values, and the message to the Georgians is that their values are not orthodox values.”
The United States, Kelly believes, can counter Russian actions by providing diplomatic support, supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia, rejecting any kind of recognition of new lands of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and helping Georgia move into a 21st century information economy.
Bakradze added that Georgia must strive to join the EU and NATO, and laid out a blueprint for possible diplomatic success with the Russians that involved American assistance.
“Georgia is a European country,” Bakradze said. “We share the values of the Europeans, and Georgia has become a strong contributor to Euro-Atlantic security.”
Political Science Ph.D student Marco Bocchese, who attended the event, was struck by Bakradze’s commitment to a pro-European, pro-Western stance.
“With regard to the Georgian ambassador of the US, clearly his mission here today was to further stress Georgia's commitment to European integration,” Bocchese said, “The message he conveyed was that European integration and democracy consolidation come [first], and NATO membership will only be relevant after those two main objectives are achieved.”
Moderator and NU professor Jordan Gans-Morse noted that it was “remarkable” how similar the opinions from the American side and the Georgian side were.
“Whether or not that means there is a solution coming soon to the conflict with Russia involves a lot more than just Georgia,” Gans-Morse said. “Georgia is at the front lines, but it’s one piece of a really complicated puzzle, and I don’t think anybody has an easy solution to it.”