William Courtney, Daniel Fried, Kenneth Yalowitz
Georgia represents a key test on the possibilities of reform in the former Soviet space.
Secretary of State Pompeo May 21 stated that “Russia’s forcible invasion of Georgia is a clear violation of international peace and security,” and he called on Moscow to “withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions.” Pompeo said President Trump “stands by the 2008 Bucharest declaration,” which affirms that Georgia “will become a member of NATO.”
Pompeo’s remarks underline the quarter-century of strong U.S. support for independent Georgia, which this month is celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the first Georgian Republic. A democracy, it embraced a liberal constitution and sought a European future but survived only a few years before being invaded and annexed by the USSR.
Since renewed independence in 1991, Georgia has made steady progress toward full European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Georgia has also stabilized relations with Russia, despite its 2008 invasion and continued occupation of parts of Georgian territory. Deft diplomacy and Western support have helped induce Moscow to restrain its aggressive inclinations toward Georgia. Yet Tbilisi’s Western aspirations remain unresolved and at risk.
Georgia’s continued progress requires deepened reforms, sustained Western backing for integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, plus patience and determination. Enlargement of the family of free, democratic nations in wider Europe is being tested, especially in Georgia and Ukraine.
While Georgia’s fast track entry into NATO or the European Union is not a near-term prospect, expanded practical cooperation will buttress ties with them, for example deeper trade relations and further participation in NATO exercises. Intensified bilateral cooperation with European countries and the United States is also important. Concentrating on the practical could help Georgia strengthen its democracy, improve its economy, and increase its resilience.
In the 1990s, Georgia—beset by separatist conflicts, corruption, extreme poverty and threats from Russia—was at risk of becoming a failed state. It has overcome many of these challenges and now stands as a striking example of a reforming and Western-oriented country transcending the limitations of decades of Soviet rule.