US must help keep Georgia on 'our' side
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Georgia is stuck in a tight, geopolitical stranglehold and needs U.S. attention. With a parliamentary election upcoming in October 2016 combined with America’s own election for the next U.S. president on November 8, there is an urgent need to recalibrate and accelerate relations.  

As a reminder, The Russian Bear took away Georgia’s territory in a five day war in 2008, and before that, tore off Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 1993.  

To this day, that grip continues to complicate Moscow-Tbilisi relations over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two secessionist regions under strong Russian influence. The Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCongress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Trump calls for 'sick' author of 2016 dossier to be jailed Trump, Johnson and Netanyahu: Western nationalism's embattled icons MORE also launched its Ukraine operation in 2014 and now occupies the Crimea.

On a regular basis, the Kremlin uses the energy weapon — the cutting of electric energy supply and rate hikes, for example — to put pressure on Tbilisi.

Yet, the Georgian government is doing all it can to remain in the Euro-Atlantic space despite all the pressures.

Historically, Georgia sits in a vicious neighborhood where Russia, Iran and Turkey continue to sway heavy influence. The Kremlin’s encroachment in North Ossetia and Abkhazia pushes Georgia westward geopolitically, while at the same time Turkey’s new enthusiasm for renewing ties with Azerbaijan limits Tbilisi's maneuver in terms of energy.

Armenia, as a client state of Russia, is naturally under suspicion by Tbilisi. The fact that the Black Sea is becoming a maritime strategic bone of contention between U.S.-led NATO exercises and Russia’s Crimea, Georgia is caught in the crosshairs.  

Geographically, Georgia faces the Eastern Black Sea and is a major transit route for current and future energy infrastructure to the Europe. It is here in the Colchis (Kolkhida) Lowland that Georgian security is paramount. The BTC (Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan) and the Western Route Export Pipeline (WREP) pipeline across Georgia are a lifeline to the European Union via the Georgian ports of Supsa and Batumi.

Other economic linkages via Georgia intend to bring more energy security to Europe. There are plans for linking Turkmenistan’s gas resources across this strategic gateway as part of the new Silk Road.

Thus, Georgia is an integral part of any EU security strategy.

South Caucasus is a pivotal region connecting the Atlantic Ocean and its Black Sea and the Mediterranean, to the landlocked Caspian Sea and Central Asia.  It is the bridgehead of the Silk Road, and therefore of strategic and economic interests to the U.S. and the EU.

Georgia remains a vital piece of the U.S.-European security architecture. As NATO is seeking to protect its allies from Russia’s expansion, Tbilisi has been a loyal and significant contributor to the US led mission in Iraq and to NATO efforts in Afghanistan.  

The small Georgian Navy is participating in a NATO’s Black Sea Forum which brings Tbilisi closer to NATO. Tbilisi is currently working to become a full member of NATO and is preparing for growing threats from terrorism, massive migration flows, and asymmetric threats from the Russian military build-up in the Crimea.  

There is another angle to consider: Good governance in Georgia opens up Tbilisi to a higher partnership with the Atlantic Alliance.

First, Georgia’s European credentials are growing. Naturally, Tbilisi is a member of the OSCE as well as an aspiring EU member. Georgia is a key state that is an integral part of European interests, including visa free travel with a focus on border control and migration.  

Second, Georgia is undergoing a democratic transition that may be the envy of other East European states. The “Georgian Dream” political coalition won the Parliament in 2012 and the 2013 presidential elections.

Despite several notable bumps and bruises, Georgia Dream appears to making governance in the country work. The ongoing parliamentary election process in Georgia is proceeding peacefully and on target for the October election. A big win for a little but proud country.

Third, Georgia is developing its market economy. Tbilisi is now implementing reforms for greater market liberalization, intended to promote greater competition in energy markets; improvements to the quality of energy services and standards; and improved conditions for the promotion of domestic renewable resources as a result of EU negotiations. Prime Minister Kvirikashvili stated “[Energy security] is becoming one of the most strategic parts of Georgia's economic policy."

Overall, the next administration needs to improve security ties for U.S. friends. Tbilisi is a friend to Washington and wants the next US administration to embrace Georgia more closely. The fact that Russia is in an expansionist phase and uses energy as a foreign policy tool will remain an enormous challenge. Importantly, Georgia is carrying its weight in sharing the defense burden among European allies.

The Georgians are proving themselves to be more than just partners. They are America's democratic allies in a neighborhood of autocrats.

Given the current security environment, Georgia deserves American security guarantees and support for NATO membership as soon as possible.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the U.S. and international media.


 

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