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The autumn of 2023 promises to be geopolitically active in the southern regions of the Republic of Moldova. Political forces funded by fugitive oligarchs Ilan Șor and Vladimir Plahotniuc are stirring up tensions in the autonomous Gagauz region as local elections draw near. The Republic of Moldova has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in recent weeks
Republic of Găgăuzia
One local leader, the President of the regional legislature, the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Dmitri Constantinov, does not rule out the creation of a “Gagauz Republic.” He stated in an interview with a TV station from the separatist Transnistria region that “people are demanding it,” although he did not provide evidence of this statement. Constantinov later reaffirmed his statement to the media in Chisinau, stating that the Republic of Moldova has been “somewhat negligent in its attitude towards Gagauzia’s laws.” On September 9, a meeting of deputies of all levels will take place in Comrat, and, as Constantinov mentioned, “it is possible” that “some of the deputies may support this idea.”
Dmitri Constantinov subsequently declared that he would appear before the Prosecutor’s Office if summoned for explanations following his statements about the possible proclamation of the Gagauzia Republic. He also maintains that he is not a proponent of this idea, mentioning that his statement was not correctly understood.
Constantinov’s response came after the Secretary-General of the DA Platform, Liviu Vovc, announced on Facebook that he had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities against him. According to Vovc, the President of the People’s Assembly, in his capacity as a public figure, advocates against the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. This comes after he said that Gagauzia could self-proclaim as a “republic.”
Referring to the statements of the local elected official from Gagauzia, Victor Petrov, a political ally of Shor, who had characterized Constantinov’s statements as a provocation that could lead to the elimination of autonomy a few days ago, the President of the People’s Assembly stated that his statement was not correctly understood. Furthermore, a few days after the declaration about creating a republic, Constantinov declared that he was renouncing this idea. “I said that on the 9th, there would be a continuation of the session, where deputies, those with mandates, would be summoned, and I have a mandate. I was asked if the question of the Gagauz Republic could be raised there, and I said I can’t tell you what questions will be discussed there and how they will be voted on. I can’t know. That’s why I can’t guarantee,” he said.
Every year, on August 19th, Gagauzia celebrates the proclamation of the Gagauz Republic. From 1990 to 1994, Gagauzia self-proclaimed itself as a separate republic from Moldova, but from December 1994 to July 1995, Gagauzia was reintegrated into Moldova, becoming an autonomous region.
What is Gagauzia?
Gagauzia is an autonomous region located in the southern part of the Republic of Moldova. It possesses a distinct ethnic, cultural, and linguistic character and is renowned for its predominantly Gagauz population, who speak the Gagauz language, a Turkic language.
Gagauzia has a complex history, with the Gagauz people being descendants of the Oghuz Turks, as some researchers think. They have developed a unique traditional culture, influenced by other peoples who have lived in the area over time, especially in the Balkan region. The Gagauz people were colonized by the Russian Empire in the current region as part of its imperial policy.
Gagauzia obtained the status of an autonomous region within the Republic of Moldova in 1994. This autonomy grants Gagauzia partial control over internal affairs, including the right to choose its local leadership and promote Gagauz culture and language.
The predominant religion in Gagauzia is Orthodox Christianity. The Gagauz Orthodox Church plays a significant role in the religious and cultural life of the region, while also serving as one of the means through which Russian influence is exerted in the area.
The economy of Gagauzia is primarily based on agriculture and the food industry. The region is known for its wine production and animal husbandry.
Relationship with the Republic of Moldova
Gagauzia has a complex relationship with the Republic of Moldova. Over the years, there have been debates and negotiations concerning its status and autonomy. Gagauzia maintains its distinct identity but also collaborates with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia has its own autonomous government and legislation. It has a regional government and an autonomous president who oversees local affairs.
Certainly, disagreements between Chisinau (the capital of the Republic of Moldova) and Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia) have been present in the relationship between the two entities in recent decades, often related to issues of autonomy, local governance, cultural identity, and control over resources. One of the main sources of tension has been Gagauzia’s autonomous status within the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia gained its autonomy status in 1994, granting it a significant degree of self-governance in certain areas. However, there have been disagreements regarding the boundaries of this status and the extent to which Gagauzia can exercise its autonomy.
Disputes have also arisen regarding control over resources, including agricultural land, industries, and sources of income. Gagauzia’s economy is largely based on agriculture and the food industry, and questions about rights to these resources can lead to tensions with the central administration in Chisinau.
Political aspects and local elections can also contribute to tensions. In some cases, the election of the president and government of Gagauzia can lead to divergences and affect relations with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova.
Dialogue, negotiation, and a commitment to the peaceful development of the relationship between the two entities are essential for maintaining stability and cooperation in the Republic of Moldova.
The threat of a new Transnistrian scenario in the context of Russia’s illegal military aggression against Ukraine should raise questions for all sensible individuals in autonomy. The authorities in Chisinau must swiftly clarify the rights and obligations of both parties, including those of Gagauzia, to remove this leverage favorable to Russian interests.
Just a year ago, Mustafa Şentop, former President of the Turkish Parliament, delivered a message of unity during his visit to Comrat in the context of the war in Ukraine. “The future of Gagauzia is not elsewhere but in Moldova. Gagauzia is an integral part of Moldova. It is more important than ever to have a constructive attitude in relations with Chisinau,” said the former head of the Ankara Legislature, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His statements are clear evidence that Gagauz separatist ambitions are fueled by the Russian Federation, while Turkey, a NATO member state and a candidate for EU membership, does not view Gagauzia as an independent state but an integral part of the Republic of Moldova.
The Şor Executive
During a recent special session of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (APG), deputies managed to approve the structure of the executive committee, but with some reservations, which were accepted by Governor Evghenia Guțul. The condition set by the deputies is that “by November 2023, when the autonomy’s 2024 budget is to be formed, the structure should be optimized, and the number of departments and officials reduced.” The second significant point is the reduction of the budget for maintaining the executive committee’s staff.
Deputy Mihail Jelezoglo reminded that some candidates in the governor’s team did not pass the Gagauz language proficiency exam – Doiceva, Kendighelean, and Cîlcic. “Our approval of these candidates in the executive committee structure will give any court the right to challenge today’s decision of the APG,” he mentioned.
Vice President of the APG Alexandr Tarnavschi stated, “It’s not the governor’s fault that she doesn’t know all the people in the proposed executive committee, as the list was not made by her but by Ilan Şor.” He continued, “You are not to blame for this; perhaps you are an honest person but inexperienced. I believe it would be more honest to resign because you are being used by others. They do not support this executive committee because its members cannot distance themselves from Şor. You will not be able to work because you will not find common ground with Chisinau or European structures,” said the deputy.
Nicolai Dudoglo, former mayor of Comrat, later stated that “we must defend her, and the central authorities should not scare the autonomy authorities with criminal cases. We all need a little patience now that we have chosen a new governor,” he said, emphasizing that Evghenia Guțul “learns quickly and is different now.” He mentioned that he would run as an independent candidate for the position of mayor of Comrat, pointing out his desire to join the political team of oligarch Şor.
Dudoglo admitted that he had suggested that the President of the People’s Assembly, Dmitri Constantinov, resign. “Enough, leave, you’ve done everything you can in this position,” he told him. “I have nothing against Constantinov, but I consider him guilty of the deadlock in Gagauzia,” said Dudoglo, who is close to Vladimir Plahotniuc.
Within the autonomy, there are several leaders opposing the feudalization policy promoted by Şor, including the Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi. He stated that the new governor, Evghenia Guțul, and her team affiliated with the former “ŞOR” Party, which was banned by the Constitutional Court, are not prepared to govern Gagauzia. Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi, shares this opinion.
It should be noted that the head of autonomy and the team she has presented have not distanced themselves from the unconstitutional “ŞOR” party and the convicted politician Ilan Şor. Furthermore, Guțul does not position herself as the head of Gagauzia for the entire autonomy but as a representative of the “ŞOR” Party, and she constantly speaks about it. This makes the authorities in Chisinau increasingly cautious about Gagauzia, especially since autonomy, after the assumption of power by Evghenia Guțul, is isolated from external partners and donors.
It is hard to believe that the republican authorities will negotiate with the Executive Committee of Comrat, given that without dialogue, you cannot develop the economy and manage social issues. The lack of dialogue between the Moldovan Government and the Executive Committee will worsen the situation in Gagauzia.
On the agenda of the Moldovan Parliament is the draft law of Deputy Radu Marian regarding the reimbursement of taxes to economic agents from the Gagauzia budget. In this case, the lack of dialogue between Comrat and Chisinau can lead to the approval of this project in its initial version, which would mean the collapse of the Gagauzia budget system.
The “ȘOR” Party and its oligarchic leader have promised to build an airport, investments of 500 million euros, and natural gas at 12 lei/m3. These promises have allowed Șor members to exert public pressure, including through massive protests, even though it is evident that the governor will not fulfill these promises.
It should be noted that the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia have repeatedly refused to discuss topics related to the structure and composition of the new Executive Committee (local government). Parliamentarians are dissatisfied that the proposed list includes individuals affiliated with the fugitive politician Ilan Șor. At the last session held on August 25, deputies only managed to approve the structure of the Committee, suggesting to the governor to modify the list of members and only then seek the vote of the People’s Assembly.
Some deputies expressed dissatisfaction with the candidate for the position of deputy governor, Mihail Vlah. According to them, Vlah was involved in a case of voter bribery during the polling stations set up in Gagauzia during the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. They also mentioned that the public television station in Gagauzia, GRT, is at risk of disappearing due to mismanagement. Deputies from Gagauzia reminded Guțul about Marina Tauber’s statements, according to which the vote in the People’s Assembly for the new composition of the Executive Committee is “a mere formality.”
By the decision of the People’s Assembly, Evghenia Guțul has until November 15 to present the new composition of the Executive Committee.
The situation in Gagauzia has also influenced the recent spy war between Chisinau and Comrat. Dozens of Russian diplomats and their families recently left the territory of the Republic of Moldova after the authorities in Chisinau decided to reduce the staff at the Russian Embassy due to “destabilizing” actions in the country. Some of them carried out official and unofficial activities in southern Moldova. At the end of July, the Moldovan government announced that the number of accredited diplomats and “technical-administrative” staff working at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Chisinau would be reduced from over 80 individuals to 25. Chisinau’s decision came “as a result of numerous unfriendly actions towards the Republic of Moldova, unrelated to diplomatic mandates, as well as attempts to destabilize the internal situation in our country.”
In response, Moscow announced through the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it would not remain without a response. “This is a new step towards the destruction of bilateral relations on the part of the regime in Chisinau. In its desire to stand out in front of its Western sponsors in terms of Russophobia, the official Chisinau is falling to ever greater depths, borrowing the Ukrainian and Baltic experiences, as well as standard measures, including public offenses against our country, banning the Russian-language press, and attacking the Russian language,” said Maris Zaharova.
Ms. Tamari Bibichadze is a member of the non-governmental organization YATA Georgia, one of the most important civil society platforms in the Republic of Georgia.
K.P.: How did the Russian invasion in Ukraine influence Georgian political life?
T.B.: The Russia-Ukraine war has had a significant impact on Georgia, and it is unsurprising that a large portion of society views the war’s outcomes as a turning point for Georgia’s future. The current polarization within the country has had a severe impact on Georgia’s foreign policy objectives and internal political situation, hindering the establishment of unified positions. Following the aggression by Russia, it is crucial to promptly identify opportunities and risks and address these issues rationally within Georgia.
First and foremost, it should be acknowledged that the Russia-Ukraine war has created a framework of opportunities that Ukraine and Moldova, two members of the associated trio, have successfully capitalized on. They have been granted candidate status while Georgia, despite demonstrating fairly positive indicators, was denied due to its internal political situation. This situation appears to foster a trend of growing “distance” from Europe, manifested in the country’s increasingly significant engagement with Russia. For instance, the visa regime with Russia was lifted on May 15, and in 2022, Russia became one of Georgia’s top trade partners, ranking in the top three for trade turnover in terms of both exports and imports. Concurrently, the number of Russian migrants has risen, with approximately 1.5 million crossing the border, resulting in over 2 billion GEL entering Georgia’s budget. Additionally, around 17,000 companies registered by Russians are operating in Georgia, with over 5,000 new businesses registered in the first three months of 2023 alone. Naturally, these developments increase risks, particularly the primary peril of pursuing an independent national policy. As dependence on Russia grows, the country becomes increasingly vulnerable to foreign political threats. Prime Minister Gharibashvili emphasized at the Qatar Economic Forum that severing economic ties with Russia would have catastrophic consequences for the country.
On the other hand, the Russia-Ukraine war has had a significant impact on Georgia’s domestic political landscape. An unprecedentedly high percentage of the Georgian population, 82%, supports Georgia’s accession to the European Union, with many believing that the government is not doing enough to achieve this goal. Recently, negative sentiment toward the ruling party has increased, despite their active pursuit of double-digit economic growth.
The Russia-Ukraine war has rekindled painful memories of the 2008 war and sparked concerns about the future among segments of society. Consequently, the ruling party has begun manipulating the discourse around peace. They assert that the West aims to open a second front in Georgia and argue for maintaining peace and stability. They have also called for sanctions. Prime Minister Gharibashvili, for example, deems it unreasonable to urge partners to cease trade, economic activities, and flights with Russia, citing the fact that the European Union engages in trade with Russia. However, the current situation does not align with this claim, as the European Union reduced its foreign trade with Russia by 64.4% in the first quarter of 2023. The war has also accentuated the preexisting democratic issues in Georgia, leading to several intense situations. One notable example is the Law on Foreign Agents, commonly known among a large portion of the Georgian population as the “Russian Law.” Its attempted adoption sparked significant protests and resulted in clashes between law enforcement agencies and civilians.
The most prominent development has been the strong support from the majority of society for Ukraine. Young people, especially Gen-Z, have become active participants and played a crucial role in opposing the Russian law. Georgia faces significant challenges, ranging from its distancing from the West to the growing dependence on Russia. However, the unity of the population and the activism of the youth provide hope for positive changes. It is also worth mentioning the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, who recently made commendable moves by pardoning Nika Gvaramia, the director of the “Mtavari Channel” and a prominent opposition journalist.
K.P.:What are the perspectives of Georgian -EU and Georgia-NATO relations?
T.B.: The Russia-Ukraine war has underscored the urgent need for European integration in Georgia. It serves as a reminder to Europe that the 2008 war was not an isolated incident, and Russia has shown a willingness to invade other states if given the opportunity. Consequently, the security concerns of Eastern European countries have become increasingly important for EU member states. Georgia perceives the European Union as its main partner in addressing security problems and advancing democratic and economic reforms, as demonstrated by the overwhelming support of 82% of the country’s population. In addition to the security aspects, Georgia recognizes the potential economic benefits and opportunities that closer integration with the European Union brings. Access to larger markets, foreign investment, and technological advancements are among the key drivers for seeking stronger economic ties with the EU.
The Russia-Ukraine war has also highlighted the importance of reconciliation and peace-building efforts in Georgia. The unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia exerts decisive influence, present significant challenges. Georgia has actively pursued reconciliation, fostering dialogue, and seeking peaceful solutions to these conflicts. Furthermore, Georgia places great emphasis on security cooperation with NATO. While the issue of NATO membership lies in the relatively distant future, there is a growing sense of urgency to pursue it. Joining NATO would not only enhance Georgia’s defense capabilities but also deepen cooperation in areas such as defense reforms, military training, and interoperability.
However, the presence of Russian military bases in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia poses a significant obstacle to Georgia’s path to NATO membership. According to NATO procedures, a country is typically accepted if it has no territorial disputes. Resolving these conflicts and achieving territorial integrity are vital steps for Georgia’s NATO aspirations.
To further strengthen its position, Georgia engages in diplomatic efforts with both the EU and NATO. These include high-level visits, diplomatic negotiations, and active participation in multilateral forums. By actively seeking diplomatic engagement, Georgia aims to enhance its relationship with these institutions and solidify its commitment to European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Lastly, public perception and awareness play a crucial role in Georgia’s integration efforts. Building public awareness and understanding fosters support for these integration processes and ensures the alignment of public opinion with the country’s strategic objectives. Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted the imperative for Georgia to pursue European integration, focusing on security cooperation with the EU and NATO. The unresolved conflicts and the presence of Russian military bases pose challenges, but Georgia remains committed to reconciliation efforts and the pursuit of its territorial integrity.
K.P.: Civil society in Georgia plays an important part in the Europeanization and democratization of Georgia. What can be done by the EU/West to help this process? Can Georgian civil society be a model for the region?
T.B.: Civil society in Georgia plays a vital role in the process of Europeanization and democratization of the country. It is a key driving force that compels the government to make decisions that benefit the nation. For instance, following the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war, Georgia swiftly rallied in support of Ukraine, with society uniting and holding demonstrations. This solidarity was accompanied by unprecedented humanitarian aid, and Georgian volunteers even traveled to Ukraine to fight alongside them. A significant portion of Georgian society considers the war in Ukraine as their own.
Another achievement of civil society is the thwarting of the law on foreign agents. During critical moments, civil society consistently assumes a pivotal stance for the country. Over the past two years, they have achieved noteworthy successes, both small and large. To further strengthen civil society and safeguard them against undue pressure, the EU can provide financial and technical assistance. This assistance may encompass training courses, various programs, workshops, and mentoring initiatives aimed at enhancing their organizational and advocacy skills. Moreover, increased funding opportunities and grants from the European Union would enable Georgian civil organizations to effectively carry out their activities.
Facilitating information and knowledge exchange between Georgian civil society actors and their counterparts in the EU and other countries is crucial. This can be realized through study visits, conferences, and platforms that facilitate the sharing of best practices and experiences in promoting democracy and European values. Additionally, active engagement of the EU with civil society organizations in policy dialogue and decision-making processes, including regular consultations and involvement in formulating policies and reforms related to democratization, human rights, and European integration, is of utmost importance.
Regarding the civil society model of Georgia for the region, it should be acknowledged that Georgia has a long history of resilience against challenges. Despite being targeted by numerous empires in the past, the Georgian people have consistently demonstrated their resolve. Even today, civil society representatives effectively handle the challenges facing the country. Their continued activism will contribute to the achievement of desired goals. Georgia has made significant progress in developing an active and issue-oriented civil society, with civil organizations playing a crucial role in advocating democratic reforms, promoting human rights, and fostering social inclusion. The experiences, successes, and challenges of Georgian civil society can serve as valuable lessons for other countries in the region.
However, it is important to recognize that each country has its own unique context, and the development of civil society may vary. Economic reforms, for example, may have justified outcomes in some newly formed post-Soviet states while causing economic shocks in others. While successful mechanisms can be applied in a general context, it is essential to consider the uniqueness of each country’s historical examples.
In conclusion, by actively supporting Georgian civil society and fostering regional cooperation, the European Union and the West can contribute to the processes of Europeanization and democratization in Georgia. This collective effort has the potential to set a positive example for the region.
K.P.: What is the political and economic importance of the Black Sea for the Republic of Georgia in the 21 century?
T.B.: The Black Sea holds significant political and economic importance for Georgia. Firstly, it serves as a crucial link to the West, providing access to resources and opportunities. The Black Sea plays a vital role in Georgia’s economic development and international trade. It acts as a key transit corridor between Europe and Asia, facilitated by sea ports such as Batumi and Poti. These ports enable the transportation of various goods, including agricultural products, energy resources, and valuable commodities, contributing to Georgia’s economic growth and integration into global markets.
Additionally, the Black Sea grants Georgia access to major trade routes and markets, fostering trade flows and strengthening political-economic cooperation. Georgia becomes an important player in the region, connecting neighboring countries like Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, as well as other European countries and Asia. The Black Sea’s energy resources and infrastructure are also noteworthy. Georgia leverages its strategic location by actively participating in energy projects, ensuring energy security, and establishing itself as a reliable partner. The Black Sea region serves as a transit route for significant oil and gas pipelines, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline. These connections allow the Caspian Sea region to access international markets while bypassing Russia, reducing Georgia’s dependence on a single supplier and enhancing its energy security.
Moreover, Georgia capitalizes on the Black Sea’s tourism potential. The coastal areas have become popular tourist destinations, thanks to infrastructure development projects that have made them more accessible and appealing. With its picturesque coastline and rich cultural attractions, Georgia attracts visitors from both regional and international markets. Tourism plays a crucial role in the country’s economy, contributing to job creation, infrastructure development, and foreign currency inflows.
The strategic significance of the Black Sea cannot be overlooked. Its proximity to major geopolitical actors and its potential as a transit corridor make it a vital maritime border for Georgia’s national security. Stability and security in the Black Sea region are essential not only for Georgia’s overall security and stability but also for the broader Euro-Atlantic community.
In conclusion, the Black Sea holds considerable political and economic importance for Georgia. It enables trade connections, ensures energy security, unlocks tourism potential, and holds strategic significance in terms of security and geostrategy. The development and effective management of Black Sea resources, as well as partnerships with regional and international actors, remain key priorities for Georgia’s political and economic development.
K.P.: A couple of weeks ago, Russia and Georgia reopened the air routes. What is the significance? Is this a sign of a geopolitical shift in Georgian foreign policy objectives?
T.B.: The abolition of the visa regime between Russia and Georgia has raised legitimate concerns and sparked questions about potential negative geopolitical consequences. On one hand, this move suggests a shift in Georgia’s goals and previously stated positions, aligning with Russia’s “do not provoke” policy. However, a significant number of Georgian citizens believe that Georgia’s aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration remain unchanged and criticize the government for this step.
The Western orientation of Georgia and the aspirations of the majority of its people are clearly expressed in the Constitution of Georgia, Chapter Eleven, Article 78, which states that constitutional bodies must take all measures within their power to ensure Georgia’s full integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This provision serves as the driving force behind Georgia’s Western aspirations. In my view, the resumption of flights between Georgia and Russia can be seen as an implicit acceptance or normalization of the occupation, which contradicts our long-standing stance on territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Furthermore, this decision can be seen as a departure from Georgia’s broader foreign policy objectives, including the pursuit of European integration and NATO membership. However, the ruling party emphasizes the importance of economic opportunities and argues that prioritizing economic and tourism interests is crucial for the country’s development. Nonetheless, the ambiguity surrounding political principles and national security issues raises doubts about the consistency and stability of Georgia’s foreign policy.
Additionally, the decision to open air routes without clear progress on conflict resolution or significant concessions from Russia is concerning, as it indicates the potential for increased dependence on Russia.Moreover, there are questions about the impact on regional dynamics and the possibility of geopolitical realignment. It could be interpreted as Russia’s adaptive response to the developments in Ukraine or an opportunity for Russia to evade sanctions. The course of events at a similar pace will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the balance of power and Georgia’s relations with its Western partners.
In conclusion, the abolition of the visa regime between Russia and Georgia has elicited valid concerns and raised doubts about the potential negative consequences on Georgia’s foreign policy objectives. While some argue for the economic benefits, others view it as a departure from Georgia’s Western aspirations and a sign of increased dependence on Russia. The implications for regional dynamics and Georgia’s relations with its Western partners are subject to ongoing scrutiny and evaluation.
K.P.: In your opinion, what would be a solution to peacefully solve the separatist conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
T.B.: In my opinion, one potential solution to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia issue would be to resolve the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which would create an opportunity for negotiations without the interference of a hostile third state. It is crucial to have sustained and inclusive dialogue involving all parties to the conflict. Additionally, considering the possibility of granting wide autonomy, similar to the existing autonomy in Adjara, could be discussed.
Restoring trust is of utmost importance as it will help create a favorable environment for negotiations. Impartial international actors such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or other regional organizations should play a significant role in facilitating a peaceful resolution.
Promoting economic development and addressing socio-economic disparities in the conflict-affected regions can contribute to stability and reconciliation. Initiatives focused on economic growth should be pursued. However, initiating dialogue between the parties is essential, emphasizing that the confrontation between Abkhazians, Ossetians, and their Georgian counterparts is rooted in Russian propaganda and distorted historical narratives.
In the long term, a comprehensive approach that addresses socio-economic and political aspects is necessary. Efforts should be directed towards reconciliation and reintegration. This includes promoting mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect among different ethnic and cultural groups. Resolving the territorial dispute will be possible when Russia refrains from interfering in the internal politics of the country.
K.P.: Romania and Georgia have similar historic backgrounds up to a point. How can the relations be improved? How can Romania help Georgia in its quest for EU membership?
T.B.: To begin with, I would like to highlight the exceptional historical and cultural background shared by Georgia and Romania, which serves as a solid foundation for enhancing close relations and cooperation between the two nations. Both Georgia and Romania have experienced challenging battles for independence, facing various empires that sought to exert control. The shared desire for independence has shaped their identities and contributed to their distinctive cultural heritage. Georgia and Romania find common ground in their values, traditions, and practices. Notably, Romania’s membership in the European Union and NATO holds significant value for Georgia in its pursuit of EU integration. Romania can act as a strategic partner, offering knowledge and support based on its successful integration journey. Drawing inspiration from Romania’s example, Georgia can chart its own course towards European integration, benefitting from Romania’s guidance and cooperation. To strengthen relations between Romania and Georgia and to support Georgia’s EU aspirations, several steps can be taken:
Firstly, it is crucial to enhance bilateral cooperation in various fields, including trade, investment, culture, education, and tourism. Facilitating more youth exchange programs and fostering educational initiatives will empower the society and contribute to Georgia’s development.
Secondly, knowledge sharing plays a vital role. Romania’s extensive experience can be shared with Georgia, encompassing technical assistance, training programs, and the exchange of best practices in areas such as governance, rule of law, economic reforms, and harmonization of legislation with EU standards.
Support in areas like democratic governance, human rights, judicial reform, and anti-corruption measures is also essential. As Georgia’s closest partner, Romania can demonstrate a meaningful gesture by advocating for and highlighting Georgia’s achievements in EU institutions and among its member states.
Furthermore, Romania and Georgia can enhance regional cooperation within frameworks such as the Eastern Partnership, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, or the Three Seas Initiative. Collaborating with other countries in the region can facilitate joint projects, infrastructure development, and economic integration, all of which will further advance Georgia’s European integration goals.
In summary, by deepening bilateral cooperation, sharing experiences, supporting reforms, advocating for Georgia’s EU aspirations, promoting regional cooperation, and facilitating cultural and educational exchanges, Romania can play a pivotal role in Georgia’s path towards EU accession.
President Klaus Iohannis stated that Romania will continue to stand by the Republic of Moldova, which has been heavily affected by war, providing financial assistance, expertise, and political support. Romania will also support Ukraine in a “comprehensive and multidimensional” manner as long as it is necessary. The leader in Bucharest has merely reaffirmed the foreign policy strategy of recent years implemented by Romanian diplomacy. He said, “We will continue to support Ukraine comprehensively and multidimensionally, for as long as it is necessary. At the same time, we will continue to be with the Republic of Moldova, which has been severely affected by war, through unprecedented financial assistance, expertise, and political support in building an irreversible European path and in constructing a safe and prosperous state for all its citizens.”
Romania’s support for the Republic of Moldova is practically one of the only objectives considered crucial by Romanian parliamentary political parties for Romania’s national security.
The current priority for Bucharest’s diplomacy is to obtain the political decision to open negotiations for EU accession with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
Since the outbreak of the war initiated by Russia, Romania’s solidarity with Ukraine has remained unwavering. Romania has received over 5.7 million Ukrainians, provided significant humanitarian aid, and facilitated the transit of over 22.5 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products through its territory. These efforts are complemented by strong political support for Ukraine at the European Union and NATO levels, as well as Romania’s involvement in isolating Russia on the international stage.
The political elite in Bucharest is united in the belief that it is Romania’s duty to continue being a genuine provider of security and prosperity in the region, so that the Black Sea can become an area where peace and prosperity are no longer threatened.
Romania’s interest in strengthening the security format in the Black Sea basin has been highlighted by President Klaus Iohannis, who announced that at the Summit of the Three Seas Initiative (I3M) scheduled for September 6th in Bucharest, there are plans to expand the platform with a new participating state, Greece, and to grant the status of an associated participating state to Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.
Given the geopolitical context created by the war in Ukraine, the Three Seas Initiative can become a much more significant platform for consolidating regional and European resilience.
At the September 6, 2023 Summit in Bucharest, Romania aims to reaffirm the role of the Initiative in promoting economic growth and strategic interconnections. This includes strengthening and refining the tools of the Initiative and redefining its relationship with its geopolitically reconfigured neighborhood.
Romania is expected to deepen its bilateral relations with European partners, especially those with strategic relevance, such as Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Belgium, Hungary, and the Baltic states.
The system of trilaterals, which has characterized part of Romania’s diplomatic efforts, should be consolidated and should not overlap with other initiatives. Trilaterals like Romania – Poland – Turkey, Romania – Republic of Moldova – Ukraine, or Romania – Poland – Spain address various security needs, and these regional options should not harm Romania’s interests in other areas, especially in the Black Sea basin.
An important aspect is Romania’s interest in ensuring access to energy resources that cannot be used for political purposes, following the Russian model. Romania should also continue to focus on the accelerated development of relations with partners in the South Caucasus, namely Azerbaijan and Georgia, given “the importance of this region in terms of energy and its role in the political, economic, and security configuration of the Black Sea.“
Romania can indeed play a role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, given the privileged bilateral relationships between Bucharest and the two capitals directly involved in the conflict, Baku and Yerevan. Even Romania’s good relations with Ankara can support this goal, even though Turkey may not view the involvement of other states in the stabilization of the region favorably. As a member of the European Union and NATO, Romania can provide unique expertise and participate in the deployment of a potential international peacekeeping force. Bucharest should support efforts to eliminate the harmful influence of the Russian Federation in the region, an influence that has led to the emergence of separatist conflicts in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.
This remains the most vulnerable state in the Black Sea region, and Romania’s support is crucial for its survival as a viable entity.
Although the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, recently stated that the European Union should be prepared to accept new member states by 2030, it is challenging to believe that this ideal can be achieved due to the complex issues in the candidate countries: political, social, economic, and security challenges.
The six Western Balkan states – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia – are at different stages in the process of EU accession.
Last year, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine were granted candidate status, and Georgia is also waiting to receive this status.
Of course, all candidate states must resolve their bilateral conflicts before joining the European Union, and Romania can play an important role in ensuring that none of the past conflicts become a hindrance to EU or NATO membership, as the case may be.
The EU should also implement internal reforms to prepare for expansion, and in this process, Romania can play an active role.
Turkey “put Russia on alert” after warning shots were recently fired at a cargo belonging to a Turkish company heading to the port of Ismail in southern Ukraine. The move by the Turkish side comes amid the organization of a meeting between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The location of this meeting has not yet been decided, and the Turkish president’s press service previously said that so far nothing concrete could be said about a potential face-to-face meeting between Erdogan and Putin, and that the administration would “inform the media as soon as details are available”.