This podcast is brought to you by stratfor world view, rain’s premier, digital publication for objective geopolitical intelligence and analysis. Special subscription rates for podcast listeners can be found at stratfor dot com. Slash podcast offer to the essential geopolitics podcast from stratfor a rain company i’m emily donahue. The president of georgia visited brussels in january meeting with european and nato officials to discuss progress on georgia’s inclusion in both organizations. Georgia sits at a crossroads both physically and metaphorically. At the pivot point between three historic empires, russia, iran and turkey – it’s increasingly drawing attention from the more distant europe, the united states and china, as it pursues a quest to become a more integrated member of europe, something that russia has long sought to resist in this Podcast stratfor senior vice president of strategic analysis, roger baker speaks with georgia’s president during her visit. Let’S, listen in well uh. Thank you for joining us president zarabeshvili hello um. Thank you. In your visit to europe, you’ve obviously discussed the prospects for further georgian integration into the european union and into nato. Clearly, on the latter issue, territorial integrity since 2008 has played a constraining role. Some workarounds have been proposed. What steps does georgia propose to understand concerns of some nato members that the inclusion of georgia would immediately put nato in confrontation or possible conflict with russia? Well, i think that there was a very clear answer given to that by antony blinken. If i’ve heard well it’s testimony to congress that it’s, not the enlargement of nato, that creates the risks of confrontation with russia and we should not be deterred by the threats of confrontation with russia because in reality, the experience of nato and that’s.
My personal experience, too, is that enlargement, although during the previous phases of the enlargement, there is always a lot of noise on the russian part. Once the enlargement happens, uh russia is uh is taking stock of the of the situation, so we should then. That certainly is the position of georgia that we shouldn’t be returned, and georgia has not been deterred from its paths towards european and euro atlantic correction by russia, which has done everything it could already uh to try to deter and divert georgia from this path. So i think that our answer is, we know what is our perspective, our past, the direction in which we want to go and we go in that direction. We do everything we cannot to create a non necessary confrontation on our side, either in rhetorics or otherwise. But what is our main objectives is something that is not for negotiation. When we look at how russia has acted to european or nato expansion, russia seems to evolved a policy of negative control around its periphery. You know using economic, political military influence to dissuade for or deter further moves for nato integration. Yes, but it does not work on georgia practically today, uh russia has very little uh economic negative leverage possible on georgia, has used all its uh military and the occupation of two of our territories, and that has not deterred that’s exactly what i was trying to say And that’s the big success of georgia and the big failure of russia is that whatever it has tried to do to stop georgia from going down this this path, that has not mattered as much as our determination to go forward, but the determination hasn’t led to inclusion.
Yet not yet, but the progress is: what are the constraints? Why is europe or why is the united states not uh, accelerating this process? First of all, it has accelerated uh, especially uh. If we take european union uh. I remember very very well when i was a foreign minister of georgia. Even the integration in the neighborhood policy was in question and people were thinking that that would not be possible and we have moved from neighborhood policy to partnership, to association agreement and to a very close path to integration. So all of these are steps and phases towards integration. It’S, not black and white. One day, you’re in one day, you’re out, we are in incredibly closer and much closer than anybody would have thought possible for a country located where we are in the region where we are – and the same is true with nato uh. Who would have thought that, on the territory of georgia, we would have military exercises of nato that georgia would be present in the nato missions in afghanistan that we would have port calls from many of the nato members in the black sea georgian ports? All of that is an incredible progress if we look at it in historical terms, now it’s clear that it’s a more difficult process for georgia than a foreign country that are in the continental part of europe and where it looks more natural. But if we look uh at this situation, uh, i think that we can be very optimistic because the progress has been steady, uh and has been by major steps forward so i’m, quite optimistic and i’m, even more optimistic.
Now, with the new u.s administration uh and its relations with uh, strengthening ties with allied partners, and we hope for more presence of the new u.s administration in the black sea and in the caucasus. Well speaking of the new u.s administration um, you know you say you hope for a greater presence. Do you anticipate a greater presence or a greater willingness of this administration uh to act, for example, in the black sea region, to be able to assert u.s and european interests and to be able to challenge perceptions of russia as a as a revisionist power or as An aggressive power yeah i mean i wouldn’t use terms that’s challenging, but i think that the presence and it’s the same message to the european union that we’re carrying here is that we need to have a steady presence, steady presence in the black sea, and there is A lot of interest on the part of the eu for all the projects of increased connectivity, direct transport over the black sea, all the energy links, and that has to be sustained by more nato presence, as well as u.s presence. And i think that we all gain. If we do not present uh all of that in a zero sum game approach, uh and that we all have to do what is in our interests, but not necessarily in a confrontational way, that’s, what i would the message i would bring to washington as soon as It will be possible to have the first contacts if we look internationally.
There is an undercurrent of anti globalism and an emerging rejection of u.s and european style, liberal norms and standards in many parts of the world not everywhere. Do you think that this is going to impact georgia’s continued drive towards integration with western europe? It has not done so until now, there is no sign of any weakening of the not only the determination of the authorities, because our direction and determination is very firm. But what is more important, i would say, is the determination of the georgian public opinion and that’s a matter for complete consensus on all sides of the political spectrum. And often i tell the european partners that we are one of the last euro enthusiasts and that maybe they need us more than they think we’ve been in some discussions with uh sokomi university on the challenges of the caucus region, as it sits at the intersection of Three historical empires, the russians, the persian iranians, the ottoman turks, it has interest of three large outside powers: the europeans, the united states and the chinese. Now, with the recent flare ups in azerbaijan and armenia and the more active role of turkey in the region, do you see the geopolitics shifting around the caucasus? Is the caucuses becoming a more important focal point of the world as it sits at these crossroads? I think it has been maybe passively, but it has always been an important crossroads and what you’re describing as the empires that are more active and interested in this region.
That is our historical legacy. We’Ve been used to that and georgia has been the one caucasian state on the continent in a continuous manner, because armenia was and was not at different times. Azerbaijan was not completely a caucasian state until later period, so the brodia’s lived with that over centuries and centuries. So we are very used to the fact that that at different times, different empires uh different interests, but there was no time practically when there was no interest from the neighboring uh big empires uh for this region. So i think that we are reconciled with this destiny, which is both a very big plus and, of course, it also is a source for difficulties and and conflicts, but it’s a very big plus, and i think that what we are seeing now in the discussions, especially With the european union is that gradually uh there is a recognition that this crossroads is important. You know, for a long time, the black sea was seen as a as a black horizon. We don’t know what’s happening beyond that, and now there is a sense that the black sea could be a sea of connection where we need increased security, certainly to make these connections happen and an important pass towards central asia and and china. So, of course, that doesn’t happen easily and it entails many problems, difficulties and different interests that are also crossing each other, but that, i think, is the appeal of that region and the one we have to live with along that line.
The the chinese belt and road initiative, of course, spreads through uh the region, given the changing dynamics of u.s, chinese relations, the rising tension and even some of the european reassessment of their economic ties with china. Does this become a potential challenging point, as georgia tries to again manage relations with the united states with the europeans and with that growing chinese investment and interest yeah that’s, an issue where we have to be careful and we have to balance everything? What is more, at one time, uh more important and, of course, for us it’s the preservation of our partners. They are not yet allies in the pure sense, but they are our strategic partners, so that will also always be the the priority. At the same time, we have to make some space for the different interests of big nations, and especially one as china, but always uh, having in mind to take into account the strategic concern so that it doesn’t affect our other interests. So we have signed a memorandum on the g5 issue because we know that that’s very important for american partners, but at the same time, if there are some commercial interests of china it’s not that we are closed for china, so it’s really a balancing act and again, As i’ve said, we had that, for instance, in a previous period uh in 2004. I remember when i was a minister. We that was a period of sanctions with iran and the same time we managed to explain to american partners that we would preserve all the major strategic interests.
But there was also a historical situation in which iran was a neighbor that we could not completely ignore, and that was well accepted uh by both sides uh our very specific special position. So i think that uh our traditions to to try to understand and make understand our close partners that we are in a specific region that needs uh some uh balancing. Otherwise we won’t we wouldn’t have come until now. As you know, georgia has a you know. Is a long standing and relatively stable uh country within the caucus context and obviously there’s an interest in looking west at europe? What role does georgia play, or should georgia play in armenia and azerbaijan and in the the conflict and confrontation there well uh at the beginning of the of the conflict, i personally uh offered the idea of the platform in georgia for for trying to push the the Idea of discussions, at least when, when the conflict had erupted uh. Clearly, we are not today in a position to play the old role of georgia in the region, which was one of mediation and being the central uh power in that in that region. But we are still the one country where everybody can meet, and that has been the case over the years uh, where most of the of our partners choose to have a foothold in georgia because that’s where they can bring the others. The the other partners of the of the caucasus, so tbilisi is still the place uh that where everybody can come and where, for instance, there could be a meeting of the means group and allow for the two neighbors to be present, where that would be difficult in Either other location, so for that reason i think that we are offering that, but for that we need a more direct uh european presence and activity, especially through the the means group to reactivate, because we are now moving from the ceasefire is just one stage in solving The issue and recovering full stability, so we need a process and in that process uh.
I think that the eu has to play an important role, including supporting maybe the through economy and through investments, supporting the the peace process, as the world looks towards energy transition and moving away from hydrocarbons. Clearly that could have implications in and around uh georgia as a region, given the the many of the countries not too far from georgia are fairly dependent upon hydrocarbons for their economies. Do you see 10 or 20 years down the road new challenges emerging for georgia? Well, we are not, as you know, a producer of hydrocarbons. We are just the transit place. Our resources are more hydroelectricity, which is a more preserved form of of energy, which, certainly, in the long run, will continue to be one of the important sources of energy, especially in the region and for our neighbors, and we also, but very gradually, uh moving to new Sources: alternative sources of energy and that’s, something that should be of interest also for the for the region. That also depends, of course, on the support of our partners on new investments uh, but these are directions that we are certainly looking at right. President zerabishvili, what one final question, then? What would you say as people in europe, people in the united states are looking at georgia? What would you say is the the way they should uh rethink about georgia and its potential role going forward. Keep georgia on their mind at any stage and in any direction i think that’s important, i mean we are a small country, a very flexible one and one that is very steady in its determination.
At the same time, there are many things that can be tested in georgia and in this region, that is the region for the future. So don’t forget georgia. Well, thank you for your time, president suspelia. I really appreciate this conversation. Thank you very much. Roger baker is stratfor’s senior. Vice president of strategic analysis, you can read more about the strategic opportunities for georgia and the geopolitics of being caught between major empires. By signing up for our free newsletter, you can sign up at worldview.stratfour.com that’s worldview.stratfor.