• Owen Swift

Episode 40. Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (A War for the Crossroads)

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Rundown:

Georgia has been at the heart of regional geopolitics for decades now, smashed between three expanding areas of influence in Moscow, Ankara and Tehran. Georgia is desperately trying to act as the neutral ground, but war is already present in the Georgian homeland, with the two breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia adding more complications to an already tumultuous region.

Guests:

Gerard Toal

  • Professor of Government and International Relations at Virginia Polytechnic

  • Author of Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus

  • Leading expert on the history of the Caucasus

Natia Seskuria

  • Associate Fellow for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies

  • Resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute

  • Lecturer in Russian Politics at University College in London

Neil Hauer

  • Journalist and Analyst usually based in Tblisi

  • Former Senior Intelligence Analyst for the SecDev Group

  • Consulted for the EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Thomas De Waal

  • Senior Fellow for Carnegie Europe specialising in the Caucasus region

  • Author of several major books on the region

Part 1: Stomping Ground (01:34)

  • Gerard Toal gives us a demographic overview of Georgia and informs us of its historic positioning as a crossroads.

  • We look at comparisons between between the post-soviet republics and their relative successes in different areas. What are the unique aspects of the Georgian experience, and what are the factors that led to so much internal territorial fracturing?

  • Look at Georgian independence and ideology and the conflict that is built into the contrast between their ideals and their geographic location.

  • We look to understand Mikheil Saakashvili. A undoubtedly transformative leader for the country, rejecting the Soviet legacy, taking on bloated corrupt bureacracy, but also growing a movement of right-wing populism in the country and directing a war against South Osettia.

  • Toal helps us understand the Russo-Georgian war; the international politics of it, the questions of territorial integrity and self-determination, the shelling of peacekeepers and the state of affairs when the conflict froze.

Part 2: Moving the Fenceposts (29:45)

  • Natia Seskuria brings us to the conflict today in these breakaway republics. We look at Russia's non-conventional intervention in Georgia today; economic warfare, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks and the destruction of the Georgian tourism sector.

  • We look at the increasing militarisation of these contested regions and the growing discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the Moscow-aligned territories.

  • Russia has been following its usual playbook of fermenting breakaway republics in its neighbouring countries, and we look at how this is playing out in Georgia; borders moving at night, Russia's positioning as a peacekeeper despite being a part in the conflict and the denial of entry to international bodies.

  • We compare Georgia's two breakaway republics; their origins, demographics, prospects of independence and politics. While at first glance they may seem like the many other breakaways, in fact they are very different from those, and from each other.

Part 3: The Middle Man (45:42)

  • Neil Hauer takes us deep into the domestic nitty gritty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

  • South Ossetia's border situation is far more fraught than that of Abkhazia, and travel between Georgia and Russia generally is quite difficult.

  • While Abkhazia seeks independence, South Ossetia openly seeks to join the Russian Federation. We look at what Russia's interests are in both cases, and the types and amount of support they give to these republics.

  • Finally we look at the actual prospects for these republics to succeed in their mission - what are the Georgian, Russian and international perogatives in the region and how will they affect the independence movements?

Part 4: There's a Bear in the Woods (1:01:20)

  • Thomas De Waal helps us understand the domestic Georgian political situation

  • We look at exactly how well connected to Europe Georgia is; comparing overall EU trade with other trade, and look at Georgia's modelling after European countries; will it enable Georgia to grow closer to the EU, or is that a lost cause?

  • Georgia's domestic industries are struggling. While Georgian wine does have an export market, we look at the their overall economic strength; they have proven a stable, quality steward for many pipelines through the area, for which they receive many royalties.

  • Ankara is an alternative option for a friend to Georgia, given that Russia will not allow them to grow closer to Europe, and they certainly don't want to be friends with a nation supporting its breakaway republics. It is still quite a one-sided relationship however, and lacks a great deal of development.

  • We round out by looking at how Georgia is crucial to the expansion plans of all the powers around it, cementing its unfortunate role as a crossroads.

The Red Line's Georgia Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


Books:

The Caucasus

Thomas de Wall


Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus

Gerard Toal


All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin

Mikhail Zygar


Articles/Journals:

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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Rex.