Georgia: The Options

Alex Cooley in EurasiaNet:

At a recent special panel on the Georgian crisis convened at the Bled Strategic Forum, European foreign ministers and representatives of international organizations lamented that they had failed to adequately engage Georgia’s unresolved or “frozen conflicts.” Since the early 1990s, the international community effectively ignored the disputes between Tbilisi and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, allowing tensions to fester until in early August the disputes escalated into a six-day war between Georgia and Russia. Russia’s subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence has legally challenged Georgia’s very territorial integrity and sovereign boundaries.

While much of the West struggles to enforce a precarious ceasefire and formulate a common response to Russia’s actions, it is worth considering the exact sovereign forms that might govern Georgia in the near future. Three options – indefinite occupation, formal partition or international administration – are possible; though all three pose risks, the internationalization option, the least discussed thus far, may offer the best blueprint for stabilizing the region and eventually resolving status issues.

Under the first and most likely scenario, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will remain recognized by Russia and a handful of other countries, such as Nicaragua, that wish to curry favor with Moscow. We could refer to this as the “Cyprus model.” [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Under this arrangement, Russia ensures the dependency of the breakaway territories by stationing a permanent military contingent and keeping the de facto governments isolated from Georgia. In the case of Cyprus, the Turkish military intervention of 1974 was followed by a relatively stable three decades, during which a sizable contingent of Turkish troops was stationed in the self-proclaimed Turkish Northern Republic of Cyprus (TRNC). During this time the sequestered TRNC languished, while the Greek-Cypriot part of the island developed rapidly, culminating in its admission to the European Union 30 years later.