As explained in Parts One through Three of “Beyond Ukraine”, Russia strategists have essentially calcified the country’s approach towards undermining the influence of the European community in integration efforts of former Soviet republics. Cultivating support for insurrectionist activity in order to undermine the territorial integrity of states such as Ukrain and Georgia is one part of a larger strategy to ensure Russian dominance over the affairs and policies of its near abroad.
Due to a confluence of factors to include enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) and the evolution of former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia away from their former patrons in Moscow, the Kremlin initiated a more aggressive policy of interference in key separatist regions in the post-Soviet space in Eastern Ukraine last winter. Culminating with the annexation of Crimea and the intensification of insurgent rebellion in Donbas, Russian clandestine support for rebellion in Ukraine is reflective of a resurgent Russian foreign policy of domination over its near abroad states from Eastern Europe through Central Asia. In attempting to identify where Russian intelligence and military assets may next be applied in this nascent new geopolitical battle with the West, Russian strategists have targeted separatist regions in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
While the war in Donbas rages, the Moldovan parliamentary elections of November 30th could signify a watershed moment for the future of conflict along a line of demarcation consistent with assessments of a new “iron curtain” of sorts. On November 24th, Russian and Abkhazian officials codified the integration of military forces under Russian command structure and effectively streamlined the foreign policy of the unrecognized breakaway state with that of Moscow. As I wrote in “Abkhazia Signs Agreement to Integrate Foreign Policy and Military Forces with Those of Russia”:
The agreement, signed in Sochi on November 24, deepens cooperation between Abkhazia and Russia, effectively integrating Abkhazia’s foreign policy with Russia’s and creating a joint military structure that places Abkhazia’s military forces under the command of Russian officers. (SOFREP, December 2)
In the wake of the elections in Moldova and the real threat of an escalation of the so-called frozen conflict in the breakaway autonomous region of Transnistria, some observers have begun looking again at Georgia, noting the opportunity that South Ossetia presents to the Kremlin for further exacerbation of separatist movements in a country still desperately seeking room under the security umbrella of NATO while recently wracked by government instability. Georgian government officials have recently been upturned and dislodged from office, including key members of the national cabninet. As Cory Welt explains in his recent article “Trouble In Tbilisi”, the government instability in the former Soviet republic is as intriguing as it is disconcerting:
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s decision to sack the country’s minister of defense, Irakli Alasania, has rattled the fragile Georgian Dream political coalition of six parties that has governed since its October 2012 upset victory over the United National Movement (UNM), the party of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Over the last two years, the Georgian Dream has cultivated the popular image of a democratic and socially responsive successor to Saakashvili’s ground-breaking but heavy-handed regime, which catered to the West but failed to combat poverty and unemployment. But the Georgian Dream coalition’s benevolent image is now under threat.
The infighting within Georgian Dream should not come as a surprise. The coalition has been an alliance of convenience since it was formed in 2011, united on the basis of a desire to oust the UNM, which had worn out its welcome after nine years of rule. (Cory Welt, Foreign Policy Magazine, November 6)
Welt goes on to elaborate in-depth on how the dismissal of Alasania has been attributed to specious claims surrounding procurement of military supplies. In the wake of the scandal, Georgia’s foreign minister, the sister-in-law of Alasania, resigned in protest along with the state minister on European and Euro-Atlantic integration.:
The firing was precipitated by Alasania’s vocal criticism of the arrest of 10 Defense Ministry officials (and one former official) in the span of a week in late October and early November. The prosecutor’s office ordered their arrest on charges related to an alleged case of procurement corruption and, curiously, health and sanitary negligence leading to the food poisoning of hundreds of soldiers. Alasania insisted that the charges were politically motivated, calling them a “deliberate attack against the Defense Ministry.” Garibashvili called Alasania’s words “completely irresponsible” and said the minister was inappropriately politicizing the issue. (Welt, Foreign Policy Magazine, November 6)
Most interesting about the shake-ups in the pro-European Georgian government were the allegations of latent Russian sympathies. These speculative accusations were underlined by the decidedly pro-European of Garibashvili:
Many foreign observers have been quick to attribute the attack against the Ministry of Defense to the alleged “pro-Russian” leanings of Georgian Dream, said to be susceptible to Kremlin pressure and enticement. Alasania himself threw down the gauntlet by calling the arrests “an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice,” an accusation that appeared to especially rile Garibashvili, who is an open supporter of Georgia’s association agreement with the European Union. (Welt, Foreign Policy Magazine, November 6)
What Comes Next and Where?
In the context of the recent geopolitical aftershocks in Ukraine and Moldova, fears of reverberations in the form of Russian interference into Georgia’s separatist campaigns were largely substantiated by the agreement signed between Moscow and Sukhumi on November 24. As noted in earlier articles, the re-opening of the Roki Tunnel, a $400 million investment by Russia to repair the damage caused during the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008, signifies the re-establishment of a key line of communication connecting Russia (and its North Ossetian territory) with the pro-Russian separatists in South Ossetia.
These tectonic movements, reverberating from Kiev and Chisinau down to Tbilisi, are an important reminder of how volatile and tenuous the separatist regions of the aforementioned former Soviet republics remain. As observers assess the likelihood that Russian interference into Eastern Europe and the Caucasus will continue, questions about how to mitigate the aggressive Russian campaigns in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia evolve into whether the proverbial Rubicon has been crossed. If, as many assert, the line of no return has been traversed, what may well emerge from the present state of contained conflict in Donbas may yet explode throughout the region and catalyze a larger conflict between Russia and its adversaries in Europe and North America.
(Featured photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)