Georgians 'still tending towards west' after Russian war

Tue 09 August 2011 | 10:37 GMT

News.Az interviews Dr Hans Gutbrod, the Tbilisi-based regional director of the Caucasus Research and Resource Centre.

What are the main conclusions and consequences of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008? How has it changed the situation in the whole region?

One good way of answering this question is to ask those that have been most directly affected. According to a survey we conducted among internally displaced persons (IDPs), 60% of IDPs said that the prospects for Abkhazia becoming an integral part of Georgia have decreased since the August war. What has not changed since August 2008 is that Georgians are tending towards the West. Seventy per cent of Georgians support Georgia seeking to become a NATO member, illustrating that this course has very strong support.

Do you think relations between Tbilisi and Moscow will normalize during Saakashvili’s government?

Certainly, a majority of the population desires the normalization of relations between Georgia and Russia. According to the Caucasus Barometer, 88% of Georgians think that it is important for the Georgian government to strengthen ties with Russia. At the same time, 71% of Georgians also think that Russian policies threaten Georgian sovereignty. So there is a desire in Georgia to normalize, but also a continuing perception of threat. To break this deadlock, all sides would need to contribute.

What should Georgia do to get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back?

There are several dimensions to this. On the one hand, there is a broad view in Georgia that this question relates to Moscow more than to Sukhumi or Tskhinvali. Nevertheless, some things can be done on the ground. According to the IDP survey that we did for Conciliation Resources, Georgians think that the most promising options lie in a greater involvement of civil society on both sides, and in signing an agreement on the non-use of force with Abkhazia.

How did the August war influence the Karabakh conflict?

Different people can draw different lessons from these events. For me personally, the main lesson is that once you resort to force, further developments become entirely unpredictable. I think that lesson holds for Karabakh as well.

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev said that the Russo-Georgian war was a lesson to Armenia and Azerbaijan, engaged in confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh. Are eternal negotiations really better than war?

Most reasonable people think that a solution is better than an eternal standoff. Things need to move, within the countries as well, and not just in external relations. There are plenty of opportunities for improving governance in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in some ways the foreign-policy dimensions are an unfortunate distraction from urgent reforms. Better education, better health systems, less corruption, more jobs – all of these would help prepare both countries for a substantive and constructive peace.


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