Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics

By Bryza, Matthew | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, October 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics


Bryza, Matthew, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Chairman Hastings, Chairman Cardin, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today the situation in Georgia following Russia's invasion and occupation of Georgian territory.

I will focus my remarks on the events leading up to the conflict, including Russia's obstructionist role in the international mediation efforts on Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Russia's provocative actions towards Georgia; and U.S. policy towards Georgia, Russia, and Russia's periphery in the aftermath of this conflict. My twofold goal is to counter Moscow's false narrative, which claims that Russia's war with Georgia began when Tbilisi attacked Tskhinvali, and to outline the Administration's thoughts on where we go from here.

I speak from the perspective of a U.S. official who has been engaged in formulation and implementation of U.S. policy on Georgia and its neighbors for the past twelve years. Throughout this period, the U.S. Government has remained committed to working with the citizens of Georgia and their elected leaders to advance democracy, prosperity, and peace. Georgia has made remarkable progress over this period from a fledgling state embroiled in multiple civil wars to a young democracy with one of the world's fastest reforming and growing economies that is linked to global markets through industrious people, energy pipelines, and a joint airport with NATO ally, Turkey.

President Eduard Shevardnadze launched Georgia's drive toward liberalization and independence from Moscow. President Mikheil Saakashvili reinvigorated these efforts, guiding Georgia through a period of remarkable reform that has brought close a compelling dream: to restore Georgia's historic ties to Europe that date back to ancient Greece and to integrate Georgia into today's Euro- Atlantic institutions.

Since Georgia's independence in 1991, each U.S. Presidential Administration has tried to convince Russia's leaders that a successful Georgia will help Russia achieve one of its own enduring goals, stability along its southern border. We believe constructive relations between Russia and its neighbors can help advance the peace we assume all people in the region seek. We also want Georgia to succeed as a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, and free country.

During my tenure as the U.S. representative to the UN's "Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Georgia," the international body charged with mediating the Abkhazia conflict, I have been struck by Russia's consistent refusal to discuss any of the substantive issues that must be resolved if there was ever to be a peaceful resolution of the Abkhazia conflict. My mandate has been to tackle issues at the heart of the conflict, such as return of internally displaced persons and the terms of a political settlement. My Russian colleagues, pleasant and professional as they may be, seemed to have a different mandate; they continuously bogged down negotiations with our German, British, and French colleagues on technical minutiae in a stall for time.

Similarly, during mediation efforts on the South Ossetia conflict under the OSCE's umbrella, my Russian colleagues seemed to be under instructions to block progress toward a solution. When the U.S. proposed a 3-stage approach of security confidence-building measures, economic rehabilitation, and a political settlement, my Russian colleagues welcomed the first two elements but said they could not discuss a political settlement of the conflict. When Moscow complained about a lack of military transparency in South Ossetia, (implying Georgia might be moving prohibited weapons into South Ossetia's Zone of Conflict), we proposed that we increase the number of military observers beyond the eight already authorized by the OSCE; my Russian colleagues said they were not authorized to agree. When the United States and many of our friends insisted that Georgia be able to co- administer the Roki Tunnel connecting Russia and Georgia through South Ossetia, Russia consistently refused and warned it could not ensure the security of OSCE observers who sought to deter the movement of military equipment and contraband through the tunnel.

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