Estonian tips for Georgia and Moldova on handling Moscow

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Conflicts in Georgia and other parts of the South Caucasus region owe much to Russia’s “peace-keeping” policies in the region, writes Estonian former prime minister Mart Laar in a July article for Europe’s World.

Estonia’s experience is relevant to the resolution of these conflicts as well as assessing how these countries should shape their policies towards Russia, he adds. In Georgia, Russia and the United States are the powers that count, he claims. Europe must show that it counts too – as it did in Estonia, with great success. 

As was the case with Estonia, Europe must understand that Georgia does not need humanitarian aid but trade, Laar claims. Trade is the means by which Georgians can help themselves, he adds. 

The fall of Communism gave the nations of the former Soviet bloc a chance to turn towards democracy, Laar states. However, he adds, their transitions were very different – with some countries cutting ties with their Communist past and moving forward decisively, and others being less successful or even “failing catastrophically,” such as – until recently – Georgia and Moldova. These failures of political and economic-reform efforts are due in large part to secessionist movements supported by Russia, he claims. 

Georgia and Moldova have made progress towards a market economy and democracy in recent years, the Estonian former prime minister believes. Since Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” three years ago, this country in particular has progressed rapidly towards democracy and turned decisively towards Western values, as well as enjoying economic growth. Despite these reforms, the EU seems to be taking a more considerate attitude to Georgian breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia than Georgia itself, the author claims. 

The EU’s neighbourhood strategy has played a positive role in helping both countries solve their problems, Laar adds. However, he claims that the neighbourhood policy is “weak and passive” in comparison with the free-trade treaty that was agreed with Estonia in 1994, and thus no real opportunities have been created for Georgia. 

Georgia has tried many times to diffuse tensions with its breakaway regions, but Russia seeks to inhibit agreement by accusing the country of aggression and ethnic cleansing, Laar claims, in order to inhibit Western political support for Georgia and prevent Ossetian and Abkhaz reconciliation with Georgians. 

Moldova’s lack of success in reforming its economy and political system is also partly due to Russian support for secessionist movements, such as an independent Transdniester – an issue that only Russia can resolve. 

Laar concludes that the EU needs to do more to support reform in Georgia and Moldova and help reduce their dependence on Moscow by developing closer ties. 

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