It has been centuries that Russia (be it Tsarist, Bolshevik or the so-called Democrats or today’s Russia of Putin and the Siloviki) has not changed its aggression-based state policy – a policy of the “protection” of Russia’s geopolitical space (from the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation at the Munich Security Conference) from being “clenched” by the West (Europe, the European Union, the USA and NATO). Russia “protects” its space through the use of military force by conducting aggressive wars and occupying and annexing different territories.

In August 2008, Russia carried out a large-scale military aggression against Georgia; namely, in the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia. Nowadays, these regions are under occupation and Moscow plans unification between Russia and these regions which means annexation.

In 2009, the so-called Tagliavini Commission produced a report (Report on the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia) in which the military aggression, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity committed by Russia are well-described and highlighted the following important issue:  “The conflict in Georgia continues to be a threat to peace not only in the Caucasus but causes destabilising effects in the region and beyond. The conflict has not only local or regional relevance but a direct bearing upon the security architecture in Europe.”

This was a correct analysis and prognosis to some extent. The report called upon the international community for more active engagement. At that time, due to an insufficiently strong reaction from the West, Russia did not pay enough of a price for its aggression against Georgia. In 2014, Moscow launched military aggression against Ukraine and annexed Crimea. The military aggression in Ukraine is still ongoing.

In the last few years, the illusions about the prospects of a peaceful coexistence with Russia, following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, were almost shattered. No one argues against the notion that together with international terrorism, Russia is the greatest threat to world peace and security. It is universally acknowledged that Russia does not only violate the rules and norms in different fields but it seeks to completely destroy international order and break the mechanisms which ensure the accountability of states (Economist, 30

July 2016, “Russian Dirty Tricks”). Additionally, the authoritarian regime in Russia manages to suppress and physically destroy free speech and political opposition.

Naturally, this kind of challenge needs an adequate reaction from the democratic world. More or less relevant steps have already been made – there are US, EU and other countries’ sanctions imposed against Russia. NATO’s military-political alliance and its individual member states have been adopting increasingly practical decisions for the last few years in order to halt Russian expansionism and force Moscow to come back to the existing system of international law and security.

Georgia has to make respective steps. Unfortunately, our country is a part of the region which Russia perceives to be its geopolitical space and it “protects” that space by using different means and false narratives. In the past, it was the protection and spread of Bolshevik-Communist ideals whilst today it is the prevention of the enlargement of NATO and the EU and tomorrow it could be the protection of shared Orthodox values or something similar.

First of all, we have to understand that we should not let Russia use the occupation of our territories combined with constant provocations and threats aimed at taking away our European identity and foiling our European and Euro Atlantic integration process. We have to understand that the main driving factor behind Russian aggression is to limit the sovereignty of independent entities in “its geopolitical space” as much as possible and not the prevention of Georgia from joining NATO as such. If NATO had not existed today, Russia would still have been an occupant. Therefore, this kind of Russia will never give security guarantees to Georgia. Georgia will obtain these guarantees only after joining NATO and the EU.

Georgia should not stop the development of democratic institutions – the independence of the judiciary and the media has to be increased and not vice versa. Georgia’s economy has to grow rapidly and be on a stable path of job creation. The Georgian people have to feel the real results of economic development. This applies to ethnic minorities as well whose integration into the public sphere should be a dynamic one. Georgia should not lose time and, by making the right steps, create an efficient armed forces armed with modern weaponry. The democratic and peaceful change of government, including the 2016 Parliamentary elections, should not be a challenge but a way of life.

A reversal of the results of the war in August 2008 and the de-occupation of Georgia is a realistic and achievable goal. Today is 8 August 2016. The 21st century is a very dynamic century with accompanying opportunities and different kinds of developments. The 21st

century, rather sooner than later, will give Georgia its opportunities and our country should not let them slip away.

It is an obligation for all of us to our fallen heroes, to our soldiers and our officers who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms as well as to every internally displaced person. There is no other alternative for the future of Georgia.

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