TBILISI — Speaking on a special panel this morning, jointly hosted by AmCham Georgia and the think tank New Economic School, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar described Georgia as “a victim of success.” Tbilisi’s rapid economic liberalization and determination to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community through NATO and the EU is too much for an increasingly autocratic Russia to take, especially in its near abroad. Former Russian government adviser Andrei Illarionov argued a powerful case that Russia’s brutal invasion of Georgia on Aug. 7 was in fact premeditated over several years. Describing a massive arms build-up, Illarionov stated that by Aug. 7, Russia had turned Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the most militarized areas of the world, even surpassing North Korea.
My message to the meeting was very clear. In both its symbolism and reality, the war in Georgia is a signal of Russia’s geo-strategic ambitions and a preview of what the West can expect from Moscow in months and years to come. The international community has thus far failed to meet Russian aggression with anything like a substantive enough response, but this is a confrontation that cannot be ignored or go unpunished. The West must look once again at its reaction to this crisis and collectively pursue firmer actions including: (i) accelerating Georgia’s accession to NATO’s Membership Action Plan (ii) exploring the possibility of establishing a free trade agreement between the EU and Georgia and (iii) concluding a military rebuilding assessment for Georgia and providing the necessary resources for this reconstruction.
Although Georgia needs financial aid to move forward in the short term, it ultimately needs positive global integration and security if it is to enjoy stability in the long term. The Georgians view Euro-Atlantic integration as a vital tool of stability and a way to shore-up consumer and investor confidence. In that respect, the EU and U.S. can demonstrate global leadership by opening the doors to EU markets and the NATO Alliance as soon as possible