Crimea Highlights Risks, Uncertainties of Georgia’s Turn to West

Crimea Highlights Risks, Uncertainties of Georgia’s Turn to West

In the wake of Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine, no states are feeling as unsettled by the fear of a revanchist Russia as Moscow’s erstwhile conquests along the Baltic and Black Seas. Though some of these states can now look to NATO as their safety net, nonmember Georgia, itself a recent victim of Russian aggression, appears isolated and badly exposed.

Russia’s newly heightened aggressiveness could not have come at a worse time for Tbilisi. Just over a month ago, the context looked remarkably different. Though still smarting from the devastation wrought by Russia’s 2008 invasion, Georgia had managed to restart trade and restore limited transportation links with Russia, rebuilding a sense of normalcy in bilateral relations—all while managing Moscow’s regular provocations and continued occupation of separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It wasn’t a thaw, or even peace, strictly speaking, but it was an attempt to arrest the acrimony of the previous period in an effort to reduce prospects for renewed conflict.

But the fragile sense of security painstakingly crafted by Georgia’s leadership seems to have been shattered by Russia’s strong-armed efforts to secure Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment and its subsequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The Ukraine crisis not only recalls the traumas of 2008, when Russian forces routed an overmatched Georgian army and marched throughout the country uninhibited, but it has also potentially opened the door to new forms of aggression. The Crimean annexation is one such example. The Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, a Russian protectorate of probably little more than 40,000 residents at most, has officially kept mum over its long-standing bid to unite with North Ossetia as part of Russia. The possibility was long dismissed by Moscow, presumably due to how brazen such a move would look. But Crimea’s annexation paves the way for Tskhinvali’s own formal entry into the Russian Federation, even if a similar attempt in Abkhazia might push the fervently nationalistic population to take up arms against their current Russian suzerains.

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