Breaking the Illusion

Ivan Chikalo

Intern at Caucasian House

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and may not coincide with the official position of Caucasian House 


Adaptation to the new political realities: Ukraine borrowing the Georgian experience


The breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the communism became the biggest socio-political shocks for the Eastern Europe. The transition to democracy was difficult and protracted, with very few states of the former communist block managing to complete it. The legacy of the conflicts and the unresolved disputes still haunt the region. The 25-year’s transition could be arbitrary broken down to the three periods: ‘the chaos’ (90s), ‘uncertainty’ (2000s), ‘the division’ (2010s). Today, during ‘the division’ period, the political, economic, and even cultural maps of the region are being reinvented again.

Probably, we are witnessing the final ‘road map’ of the former Soviet Union. Thus, the environment forces actors on the scene to play by a new rules and breakup with some illusions of the past. The Ukrainian crisis is a point of no return that would show how far Russia’s ‘empire’ restoration ambitions could lead.

The road to this climax began in 2008 with the Five Days War between Russia and Georgia. The seven years have passed and it seems that the Georgian society in general is ready to build up a new relationship strategy with Russia, based on pragmatic economic interest and rational caution. Ukraine has an opportunity to borrow Georgian experience and adopt to the new relations with Russia. Otherwise, no social, economic, judiciary reforms would be able to guarantee countries security and position on the global arena. This piece argues that Ukraine should not focus yet on the reforms practice borrowing, because Georgia was not in a state of an ongoing conflict when the Rose Revolution happened, but rather concentrate on the strategy Georgia has when dealing with Russia.

The Georgian Experience

The idiom ‘Georgian experience’ is frequently mentioned in the context of the Georgia-Ukraine relationships. The Maidan government set an ambitious goal to bring Ukraine to the EU’s acquis communautaire standards.[1] The EuroMaidan leaders came up with the ’64 Priorities’ plan that is a road map of the reforms.[2] Unfortunately, shortage of time, political turmoil, loss of Crimea, and the conflict in the South-East are the factors that deters successful implementation of the ‘Strategy – 2020’. Hence, instead of reinventing the wheel, the government decided to look for the success cases. The ‘Georgian experience’ was the most relevant.

During the past year more and more ex-Georgian statesman were invited by Kiev to occupy government positions. All of them were Mikheil Saakashvili’s followers and actively participated in the reforms. Moreover, finally Saakashvili himself received a governor chair of  Odesssa Oblast. Although, the current Georgian president condemns and expresses a concern saying, “I cannot explain to the Georgian people, why the friendly Ukrainian government could appoint the wanted by the INTERPOL, leading representatives of the criminal regime,” the status of the Georgian reformists does not concern Ukrainian government looking for the short cut to the Euro-Atlantic family.[3] Although, the EuroMaidan leaders refuse to acknowledge that the integration and the ‘Strategy – 2020’ would not work until the state adopts to the new realities of living side by side with an unfriendly neighbor. The Georgian government managed to reevaluate its relations with Russia and build up the system of ‘cautious cooperation’[4]. The Ukrainian government have to build up on this particular ‘Georgian experience’ in order to move to the Western direction.

The Georgian-Russia relationships

The bilateral relations between Moscow and Tbilisi are still tense. The single fact of an absence of the official diplomatic relations – there is no Georgian embassy in Russia and vice-versa – proves that. Furthermore, the policy Kremlin executes towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia does not bring any detante as well.[5] Yet, the Georgian government adopted and now manages to keep the balance between further Euro-Atlantic integration and relations with Russia.

The term ‘cautions cooperation’ applies to the cases when a smaller state have to maintain bilateral relations with a large and hostile state. Nevertheless, despite the hostility, the smaller state is forced to cooperate, usually, because of the economic or political dependency. For example, bilateral relations between China and Taiwan or China and Philippines[6]. The economic ties bring up possibility for a dialogue. Although, such relations are never equal in nature, the economic incentive guarantees stability. The Georgian government successfully applied that model to its bilateral relations with Moscow.

The Five-Days War (2008) was a clear sign made by Moscow saying that Russia would not allow ‘bold’ strategy of Euro-Atlantic integration neither to Ukraine, nor to Georgia. Sergey Lavrov, Russian’s foreign minister, stated in the beginning of the year that Russia would have to implement measures if Georgia would become a NATO member.[7] The ‘cautious cooperation’ implies avoiding straightforward policies and through the political maneuvering and the ‘baby steps’ technique, to move toward the original goal. Although, scholars and political analysts, and even NATO spokesperson are still not certain about Ukrainian and Georgian chances of getting in to the ‘club’, the country keeps it as a strategic priority.[8] On the other hand, Russia would always be a neighboring country and the economies dependency would always remain. Hence, the policy of ‘cautious cooperation’ is more favorable.

The argument that the economic interdependence reduces the risk of a conflict is a topic of a debate among International Relations scholars. Proponents used to argue that:

Trade and direct investment increase cross-border economic contact and raise a state’s stake in maintaining linkages. Monetary coordination and interdependence demand that states strike deals. Through such interactions, states create a broad set of mutually beneficial economic linkages. While these linkages may deter very modest clashes, their main impact is as a substitute method for resolving conflict. ( Gartzke, Li, Boehmer; 418)

Moreover, Keohane and Nye argue that the use of force could be costly for the large state, because of the ‘resistance by people in poor or weak countries’, ‘negative effects on the achievement of economic goals’, and because of the domestic opinion on the human costs of the conflict.[9]

The opponents argue that the interdependence is likely to result in a conflict, because states should sustain an import of raw materials, protect investments, markets, and the economic access.[10] Finally, the decline of the world economic growth pushes large states to ‘grab’ all available assets. The both sides of the debate have valid argumentation, however, the ‘cautious cooperation’ implies strategy of zero provocations, which should sustain state’s security.

Since the war, opened its doors for the Russian tourists (Saakashvili), Georgia revived the trade with Russia (Ivanishvili), and learned to avoid provocative actions. For example, it did not join the latest anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the West, and hushed up public reaction towards the Russian attempt to change the borderline between Georgia and South Ossetia, although calling it a ‘provocation’. [11] Nevertheless, at the same time, Georgia manages to continue the Euro-Atlantic integration, including the implementation of reforms required by the EU’s acquis.[12] Hence, the Ukrainian government has a chance to borrow the ‘Georgian experience’ in that sphere and successfully build up on it.

The Prospects of the Russian-Ukrainian Relations

The conflict in the South-East is the major deterrence for the ‘Strategy – 2020’. Thus, the peaceful resolution of it would allow for the Russia-Ukraine relations normalization and ‘cautious cooperation’ strategy implementation. Unfortunately, neither official Kiev, nor the so-called ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ comply with the Minsk II agreements. The deadline for the agreement is ‘the end of 2015’. The failure could result in violence.

The Minsk II agreements consist from the 13 points that include the heavy weapons withdrawal (implemented partially by both sides), amnesty for all participants of the conflict (not implemented), restoration of the economic connections – pensions payments (not implemented), restoration of the state border control with Russian Federation (not implemented), and the introduction of the constitution reform that would allow for the Ukraine decentralization and granting a special legal status for the regions (partially implemented).[13] Finally, one of the points is the conducting of the local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation. Recently, the ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ leaders expressed their readiness to implement this point.[14] Although, Petro Poroshenko stated that he would be ready to have a dialogue with the elected government, the prospects of the Ukrainian government to acknowledge the elections are not certain[15]. Because they would lead to the legalization and recognition of the separatist republic’s political leadership, which is unfavorable outcome to the Ukrainian government. Thus, the prospect of the conflict resolution in near future is vague.

Although, it seems like a deadlock, the Ukrainian government has an option to borrow the Georgian experience in conflict resolution and to stabilize the bilateral relations with Russia. Thus, a creation of an expert committee on a conflict resolution consisted from the Georgians invited to assist the EuroMaidan government and those experts who were directly involved in the process of Georgian-Russian relations normalization could be beneficial for the conflict resolution and the stabilization of bilateral relations with Russia.

As argued above, the implementation of the ‘Strategy – 2020’ would not be feasible without conflict termination. The Georgian expert committee would be able to persuade the Ukrainian government of the need to comply with the Minsk II and develop a road map of the ‘cautious cooperation’ relations with the neighbor. Furthermore, the third party’s vision could bring more pragmatism to the Kiev’s position.



If to consider ‘the division’ as the last step in the process of the post-Soviet political development of the Easter Europe, the conflict in the Ukrainian South-East will be a point of no-return in bilateral relations with Russia. Hence, the new realities dictate the environment to which Ukraine would have to adopt in order to preserve its security and well-being.

In this article, I argued that the borrowing of the Georgian state reformation experience should not be the priority goal at this point. Instead, taking and applying the Georgia-Russia relations model could lead to the Russia-Ukrainian detante that is more strategically significant for the state. Without stable socio-political situation in Ukraine, the reforms enactment would not be effective.

Georgia has a relevant experience of the necessary adaptation after the armed conflict with Russia. The strategy adopted by Georgia demonstrates that the cooperation with an unfriendly neighbor is a viable option. Moreover, in the case of the economic and political dependence the ‘cautious cooperation’ could be beneficial both in a short and in a long-run perspectives. The Georgian government achieved normalization in the relationships with Russia and managed to continue the Euro-Atlantic integration and conduct further reforms to correspond the EU’s acuis. Furthermore, the trade between countries is growing together with the Russian tourists flow to Georgia.

Hence, the EuroMaidan government should prepare grounds for the reforms by securing it’s socio-politically environment, particularly to achieve peace in the South-East with the Russian guarantees provided. The Georgian advisors and the public officials working in the Ukrainian government and the additionally invited experts could provide assistance in conflict resolution by sharing relevant experience. Furthermore, the current Georgian government is also able to aid in that sphere. After the ‘cautious cooperation’ policy roadmap is developed and the state fully adopts to the realities, the ‘Strategy – 2020’ could be carried out and the EuroMaidan leaders would be more flexible to precede with the Euro-Atlantic integration.



Baker, Carl. “China-Philippines Relations: Cautious Cooperation”. Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Special Report, oct. 2004

Caucasian House. “Conflict in Georgia: Ongoing Challenges and Ways to Solution”. Caucasian House Publishing, 2015.

Copeland, Dale C. Economic Interdependence and War. Princeton University Press. 2014

Chitanava, Kuzialiv. “Economic Reforms: Market Liberalization vs Social Responsibility. Lessons Learnt from Georgia for Ukraine.” Caucasian House publishing, Working Paper. 2015

Garzke, Li, Boehmer. “Investing in the Peace: Economic Interdependence and International Conflict”. International organization, Vol. 55, No. 2, pp. 391-438, 2001.

Goldgeir, James. M. “The Future of NATO”. Council on Foreign Relations: International institutions and Global Governance Program, Council Special Report No. 51, feb. 2010

Keohane and Nye. “Power and Interdependence”. International Organization, Vol. 41, No. 4, 1987

Turashvili, Medea. “Georgia’ Conflict Resolution Endeavors and Lessons Learned”. Ukraine’s Strategy for Building Relations with the Population of Crimea and Donbass. Lessons Learnt from Georgia for Ukraine, Caucasian House Publishing, Tbilisi, 2015.


[1] Community acquis – the common foundation of rights and obligations which binds together the Member States of the European Union. The accumulated legislation that constitutes the body of European Law, which the applying state have to adopt.


[3] Чарквиани, Нестан. “В Тбилиси недовольны назначениями грузинских экс-чиновников в украинском правительстве”. Голос Америки, 20.12.2014

[4] Baker, Carl. “China-Philippines Relations: Cautious Cooperation”. Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Special Report, oct. 2004

[5] Кавказский Узел.

[6] Baker, Carl. “China-Philippines Relations: Cautious Cooperation”

[7] Риа Новости.

[8]  Goldgeir, James. M. “The Future of NATO”. Council on Foreign Relations: International institutions and Global Governance Program, Council Special Report No. 51, feb. 2010

[9] Keohane and Nye. “Power and Interdependence”. International Organization, Vol. 41, No. 4, 1987

[10] Copeland, Dale C. Economic Interdependence and War. Princeton University Press. 2014

[11] Новости Грузии.

[12] Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

[13] The Telegraph. “Minsk agreement on Ukraine crisis: text in full”.

[14] LB.UA. “Лавров заявил о готовности ДНР и ЛНР к выборам по украинским законам”.

[15] EurAsia Daily.Извините, но эта запись доступна только на английском языке.სამწუხაროდ ეს ტექსტი მხოლოდ ინგლისურად არის ხელმისაწვდომი.


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