USA needs Georgia because of competition with Russia and Turkey

What this time, in June 2021, brought another high-ranking visitor from Washington to Tbilisi?

Georgia and the USA: novelty and continuity

“Under the administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Georgia remains a key strategic partner of the United States in the South Caucasus and an important partner in the Black Sea region,” Philip Ricoeur, Acting Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, did not skimp on epithets during his visit to Tbilisi.

However, some stylistic features of his performance did not pass by the attention of observers. Ricoeur, speaking of the US-Georgian strategic relationship, emphasized the role of the current administration.

Indeed, Biden’s team strives in every possible way to highlight the differences between its foreign policy course and the foreign policy of Donald Trump. The forty-sixth US president speaks of his country’s “return” to a leading position in the world, of the actualization of Euro-Atlantic solidarity and support for democratic values. So Philip Ricoeur, being in Tbilisi, stated: “The message of my visit is to ensure the success of Georgia as a country with a developed and reliable democracy.”

However, upon closer acquaintance with the rhetoric and practice of the forty-fifth and forty-sixth US presidents, be it issues of global politics or regional security (for example, the Caucasus), we will see more similarities than differences.

Yes, the Trump team paid more attention to the factor of strength and pragmatism, and the current inhabitant of the White House focuses on values, but in the first and second cases, it is about maintaining US dominance. Whether through harsh pressure or accusations that a country does not meet high standards of human rights and democracy, Washington, under both Republicans and Democrats, seeks to prevent the emergence of competitors in the face of China or Russia. And the Eurasian direction was and remains one of the key priorities of the United States, no matter who occupies the commanding heights.

The career of Philippe Ricoeur himself is an excellent confirmation of this. After all, the current promoter of the interests of the Biden-Harris administration also worked successfully in the team of Mike Pompeo, the predecessor of the current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. He received his post in March 2019. And he managed to gain experience in the Georgian direction. In September 2019, Riker, on behalf of Pompeo, visited Tbilisi and during his visit stated: “Georgia has no better friends than the United States and the American people.” Last November, during Pompeo’s last visit to Tbilisi as Secretary of State, Ricoeur carried out a delicate mission – meeting with representatives of the Georgian opposition. His then outgoing boss chose to focus on dialogue with the authorities. And now, in June, as Blinken’s deputy, he is preaching the idea of ​​a dialogue between different political forces as the foundation of internal stability in Georgia.

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So, under Trump and under Biden, Georgia was and remains the main strategic priority of the United States in the Caucasus. The main issues of the bilateral alliance are built around the military sphere, Tbilisi’s promotion to NATO, as well as support for democracy, understood as strengthening the intra-Georgian Euro-Atlantic consensus.

Tbilisi’s geopolitical loneliness?

The well-known Tbilisi political scientist Gia Nodia very accurately defined the meaning of the new status quo in the Caucasus after the second Karabakh war: “The role of Russia and Turkey has increased at the expense of the West. Turkey is a NATO member, but in the region it is a completely independent player and does not coordinate its steps in any way. with allies. ” And this state of affairs is of great concern to both the United States and Georgia, giving them additional impetus for cooperation. Washington fears the formation, albeit situational, but an alliance of three Eurasian giants – Iran, Russia and Turkey. All three are not interested in the advancement of the United States and its allies in Eurasia, sovereignty and national interests are important for all three, none of them wants to “promote values” and, under their camouflage, Washington’s priorities. True, all this does not turn Turkey away from NATO, and the degree of its readiness for selective cooperation with the United States is several times higher than the similar aspirations of Moscow and Tehran. But the very danger of a rapprochement between the “Eurasian troika” (even in theory) worries the American establishment.

However, Washington is worried about Turkey and Russia in different ways. In the first case, we are talking about the growing economic integration of Ankara and Tbilisi, in which the Georgian partners act as juniors and dependent. Russia, on the other hand, raises concerns as a “revisionist state.” The problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not concern the United States by themselves, they are not even taken seriously as problems of self-determination in the process of the collapse of the USSR, but are seen as a territorial reconfiguration of the Caucasus with the help of force. And the United States is not yet ready to resist this force. In the scientific literature, this is defined as an alliance dilemma. There is interest in building up bilateral cooperation, but there are great risks associated with the involvement of an ally in disputes and conflicts with third countries.

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The second Karabakh war strengthened Azerbaijan’s ties to Turkey and Armenia to Russia. At the same time, both Moscow and Baku are interested in maintaining the positive dynamics of bilateral relations. In this context, only Georgia remains a consistent advocate of rapprochement with the West. For Armenia, the path to NATO while maintaining Turkish membership in the Alliance is closed, and for Azerbaijan the current level of cooperation with the bloc is sufficient. It turns out that, apart from Georgia, no one is seriously interested in North Atlantic integration in the Caucasus.

To NATO through internal stability?

Philippe Ricoeur has a reputation as a successful lobbyist for pro-NATO sentiment in Europe and Eurasia. He has many years of work behind him in the Balkans. Ricoeur knows Macedonia very well, where he served in the early 1990s as an ordinary diplomatic officer, and in 2008-2011, already in the rank of ambassador. His name is associated with a great contribution to the settlement of disputes between Athens and Skopje and the country’s integration under the official name of North Macedonia into NATO.

In this context, it is easy to understand the enthusiasm with which the distinguished visitor was greeted in Tbilisi. If until 2020 NATO expectations were associated only with the issue of “containing Russia”, today Georgia is worried about the “Russian-Turkish condominium” on Karabakh and the overall weakening of the West in the Caucasus. In many ways, Riker’s visit was intended to allay the fears of the Georgian elite. But what signals did the senior American visitor send?

All the usual set of words was spoken. Russia has been criticized for its actions against Georgia. The right of the former Soviet republics to choose an independent foreign policy by the representative of Washington was fully supported, as well as condemned the desire of Moscow to prevent him.

However, no intelligible messages were voiced about Georgia’s imminent entry into NATO. And even about providing this country, like Ukraine, with a Membership Action Plan (which does not mean automatic entry into the Alliance). The same Macedonia received the MAP in 1999, but became the thirtieth member of NATO only in March 2020, after preliminary rebranding of the state name. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been implementing the Membership Action Plan since April 2010. But so far, the Alliance has not grown at her expense. Despite the fact that Georgia is constantly referred to as a NATO “graduate student”, the “candidate’s defense” has been postponed over and over again. What is the reason for such a slow progress towards the goal, the achievement of which is seen by the United States as a blessing?

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The states are concerned not only with the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the extreme irritability of Moscow in connection with the possible expansion of the alliance. For several years now, the main Caucasian ally of the United States has been unable to cope with the internal political crisis, which American and European diplomats have been extinguishing, but cannot completely extinguish. The political class of Georgia cannot do without the missions of Ambassador Kelly Degnan, the same Philippe Ricoeur or the head of the European Council Charles Michel. As a consequence, there is a fear that any new crisis will lead to an increase in Euro- and natoskepticism. Hence the desire to hedge risks.

The United States would like to strengthen Georgia’s statehood in order to then push it into NATO. The sequence is as follows. And it was precisely this signal that Ricoeur articulated quite clearly. Will he be heard and how is he interpreted? The answer to this question does not seem obvious.

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the editorial board

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