GFSIS Georgian Foundation For Strategic and International Studies - events. Georgia’s European Perspective in the Context of EU’s Future Evolution Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation The European Union is the best integrated and the most successful union of countries in the world. Only European countries can join the Union and from about twenty European countries, which have not yet become the member of the European Union, almost a half have a desire to join it as soon as possible. These countries include: The Associated countries from Western Balkans (Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo) The Associated countries of Eastern Europe (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). The motivations of the countries not seeking integration into the European Union at the given stage are quite different from one another. These include: Countries which have greater wealth than the European Union’s average (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland); Mini states, which cannot technically become full members of the European Union due to the extremely small size of their populations (Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and San-Marino); Countries which are under the Russian influence and have practically lost their ability to act independently on the foreign policy arena (Armenia and Belarus); Countries whose governments are quite scared by the criteria determined for the membership of the European Union (Azerbaijan). Today, the process of European integration has practically covered the whole sub-continent. The European Union itself is the nucleus of this process; however, around the nucleus and in the format of close partnership to varying degrees, almost all European countries are approximating and integrating with the EU structures. What are these formats? European Economic Area (EEA), which is a sort of an extension of the European internal market. Part of its members, which are not simultaneously members of the European Union, include Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland, benefitting from all four freedoms of the European Union’s single market and integrated into most EU policies. Switzerland can also be added to this group (despite the fact that it does not participate in the aforementioned agreement/format), as it has achieved very similar mode of relations with the European Union through numerous agreements of its own. All of these four countries are the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It is not unlikely that the United Kingdom will join this association after leaving the European Union. Customs Union, which, apart from the European Union member states, also includes Turkey and three mini states of Monaco, San Marino and Andorra. Stabilization and Association Process, which has been designed by the European Union for the Western Balkan countries. This is the European Union’s program, which provides for the eventual signing of the Association and Stabilization Agreements with all Western Balkan countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo), establishing the free trade area between the European Union and these countries and creating a European perspective for them, including by granting the status of potential candidates. Croatia has been the member of the European Union already since 2013 whilst Montenegro is also very close to becoming a full member. The Eastern Partnership is a part of the European Neighborhood Policy, which opens the opportunities of close cooperation and approximation for six Eastern European (Post-Soviet) countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus). The multilateral dimension of this format uses the multilateral cooperation platforms between the six beneficiary countries and the European Union, which include thematic platforms, flagship initiatives and panels. The main element of the bilateral dimension of this format is the Association Agreement, which has been signed by three target countries thus far. It should be pointed out, that the remaining three countries that have not signed the Association Agreement are still deepening their relations with the European Union and signing new agreements with it. All of the facts discussed above make it clear that the European integration process is unfolding through some sort of concentrated circles and Georgia, together with other Eastern European countries, is situated on the outer (peripheral) circle, since these countries do not yet have a perspective of becoming the members of the European Union. All European states except Russia are either closely connected with the European Union structures or are approximating to it through legal or institutional means, transport and energy infrastructure networks, human contacts or participating into the common policies and so on. Only one state, Russia, does not express any desire of approximating with the European Union. It tries to create a gravitation around itself, which would balance the European integration process and is partly successful in this through various tough or soft methods, including the use of force and the threat of using force. Despite this, we can easily see that the attractiveness of the European Union is far bigger than that of Russia and the European integration process is moving forward. Ninety six EP members adressed EU leaders to support European perspective of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, May 20, 2015 It is clear that the enlargement of the European Union, which is currently moving rather slowly and weakly, represents the main element of European integration. Without enlargement, the European Union will not be able to include the whole sub-continent (excluding Russia) into its system of values and will also fail to fully expand its legal-institutional systems. The full stability and security of the European and NATO member states will also be much harder to maintain, especially given the extremely weakened role of the OSCE in these matters. In the future, the countries seeking membership of the European Union will have more ambitions to become full members. Fostering and developing these ambitions is a precondition for the fast and effective reform processes in these countries. A proper response from the European Union in order to protect the countries with European aspirations from Russian irredentism is also necessary, since the latter demands the "return" of the Post-Soviet area and does not recognize the sovereign rights of a number of countries to link their futures to those alliances and structures, which they prefer to be associated with. Despite the fact that the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) provides for (in Article 49) a right to submit application for membership, integrating into the European Union is very hard given the current conditions and takes a lot of time. Candidates, aspirants or potential candidate/aspirant countries may be ready to take on certain obligations from the European Union or fully participate in certain policies (for example: defense, energy, environment protection and others); however, in order for them to become full members of the European Union, they are also obligated to be ready to implement the norms of the European Union from both legal as well as institutional standpoints. On the other hand, the member states of the European Union are also obligated to fully participate in all policies and decisions (with small exceptions) and, in a number of cases, they are not able to do so comprehensively. European integration and increasingly close linkage of the countries around the EU nucleus is a sustainable trend. Parallel to this, the conditions for becoming a member state are becoming more and more difficult to meet and even the states, which are already members, find it hard to remain in the European Union and uphold all the obligations that they have. Given this situation and in order for the European integration process not to be hindered, the countries aspiring to full membership must be given the opportunity to join certain parts of the European Union policies upon their readiness, taking obligations connected to these policies only, also receiving the status of membership at the same time. In order to do this, the institutional setting of the European Union must be reformed completely. There are several, already existing, models that could be established in the future: Multi-Speed Europe – different countries will have the right to choose different speeds of integration. The list of countries with the highest quality of integration will consist of the Eurozone member states, followed by the countries, which are not Eurozone members but are in fact full members of the European Union. The third group will include the states, which are not members of the European Union but have a desire to get involved in various common policies, with the right of participating in the decision-making process. Concentrated Circles – has partly been included in the latest agreements of the European Union, as a result of which some countries participate in the extended cooperation format in the fields of defense and security, with deepened relations in these fields. The Lisbon Treaty (2009) provides for such a cooperation for a minimum of nine countries, if they so desire. Article 42 (6) of the Treaty provides for the structural cooperation in the field of defense, where a number of member states (eight countries) can make decisions through qualified majority and act without the participation of other countries. It should also be pointed out that not all the members of the European Union participate in the Eurozone or the agreement on Schengen Area, which exhibits the features of the differentiated integration. In the future, it is possible that such countries, which participate in all policies of the Union, will become the members of the "small circle." The members of another, wider circle, will maintain more sovereignty, including in the fields of defense and security as well as those of monetary and migration policies. The countries in the peripheral circle or those who joined recently could only have the right to participate in the single market. Both of the approaches discussed above still lack theoretical processing and hence have a multitude of modifications. The academia also refers to these phenomena as changing geometry Europe or differentiated integration. Georgia’s integration in the European Union in the future can be achieved in a way very different from the current enlargement process. More specifically, functional integration, which is being undertaken with the aim of deepening sectoral cooperation, could develop into a gradual and full integration into various policies of the European Union. This will then turn into a soft institutional integration, which will enable the country to participate in the European Union institutions, only to be present during the decision-making processes about the policies it will be fully integrated into. Tue, 25 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT Brexit Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been re-launched: What will be their Influence on Georgia? Author: Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior Fellow of the Rondeli Foundation The decision of the population of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has significantly changed the political configuration of Europe. The negotiations between the delegations of the United Kingdom and the European Union were re-launched on 17 July 2017 in order to determine the conditions of the UK’s exit from the European Union. As the stated positions of the parties suggest, the negotiations will be both long and difficult. The parties will have to reach agreement about highly painful issues. As it has been suggested, the negotiations ought to be over by March 2019. Hence, Europe will be facing a new reality by spring 2019. What this reality will be like, we do not know. In general, we can allow ourselves to make the following assessment: either both sides will exit the process becoming stronger, or they will both be weaker as a result. The situation, in which only one side will be successful at the expense of the other, is practically impossible. It is more likely that the negotiations will end with near zero results. This is the least likely and the least desirable outcome both for the parties of the negotiations, as well as for Georgia. It is also quite concerning that, the attitude of "no deal is better than bad deal" has been expressed by both delegations in the run-up to the negotiations process. The result will depend upon the ability and readiness of the negotiating teams to reach compromise. It must be pointed out that due to objective reasons, the European Union delegation is facing a more difficult task since the results of the negotiations are closely observed and mandated by 27 EU member states. We should also not forget that the results of these negotiations must be subject to a complete consensus among the Union members. Georgia cannot influence this process. Nevertheless, we are interested in the negotiations resulting in a successful resolution and the consequent strengthening of both the European Union as well as the United Kingdom, as a result of successful compromises. The ability of the European Union to overcome this very severe challenge (the first, and hopefully the last member state leaving the European Union) is of an existential importance to us, given the main foreign policy priority of Georgia of becoming a full member of the European Union. Principled positions of the United Kingdom are also very important for Georgia, since the UK is our loyal political supporter on the international arena, including as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. UK is also an important investment and trade partner for our country. External Trade between Georgia and the United Kingdom (2012-2017, USD Million) 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 / 6 Months Exports 20.9 29.7 24.7 21.5 15.2 3.9 Imports 115.3 90.8 94.8 91.4 143.6 36.3 Turnover 136.2 120.5 119.5 111.9 158.8 40.2 The United Kingdom is also one of the top investors in Georgia. According to the data of the first quarter of 2017, the UK occupied the third position in terms of investments in Georgia with USD 80 million, following Azerbaijan (USD 97 million) and Turkey (USD 82 million). As for the economic cooperation perspectives between Georgia and the United Kingdom, the best possible option would be for the UK to maintain full integration into the single market of the European Union in a way, that would ensure the unimpeded functioning of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union on the territory of the UK, even after the country had formally left the Union. All this is possible but certainly not guaranteed. The 27 member states of the European Union will delegate their mandate on free trade negotiations with the United Kingdom only in October 2017. It will depend upon the process of current negotiations about a number of other issues and their results. The examples to this include the rights of the European Union citizens in the United Kingdom, regime on the border between the Republic of Ireland (EU member state) and Northern Ireland (UK), agreement about the coverage of the financial obligations of the United Kingdom towards the European Union and so on. It should be taken into account that according to the assessment of the European Union, the United Kingdom must pay about EUR 60 billion (USD 70 billion). According to the data of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the GDP of the United Kingdom amounted to USD 2,629,188 million in 2016. Hence, the sum named by the European Union and to be paid by the UK constitutes a solid 2.67% of the 2016 GDP of the country. It is hence no surprise that, as of today, the United Kingdom does not recognize this kind of debt, at least in the given amount. It is not difficult to understand that reaching agreement about this issue will require a lot of resources from the negotiating parties. The mandate to be given by the 27 member states of the European Union for the free trade negotiations with the United Kingdom is largely dependent on the resolution of the abovementioned issue of payments. As already pointed out, the issue is a financial one and hence especially requires a full consensus between the member states of the Union. In order for us not to be dependent on the results of these negotiations and avoid any legal ambiguities connected with Georgia’s bilateral relations with the United Kingdom, it is necessary to take action. The situation formed in the process of negotiating Brexit influences Georgian interests directly. In order to avoid the risk of legal vacuum, consultations about free trade, as well as the legal basis for bilateral agreements with the United Kingdom must start immediately, if they have not begun already. The easiest path for the both sides to take would be to recognize the succession of the Association Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, on the one part, and Georgia, on the other part. The 23 August 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties, includes all necessary international law mechanisms for this to be undertaken. The fact that neither the UK nor Georgia are the participants of this Convention will be of no hindrance in the case of the existence of political will, whilst the agreement itself can be put into power very easily – by exchanging the diplomatic notes. Thu, 20 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation” Author: Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior Fellow of the Rondeli Foundation Never has foreign policy been so important for ensuring the security of the Georgian state, as it is today and never have not only politicians, diplomats and experts, but the general population of the country as well, realized the importance of it. Georgian diplomats have often confronted cynically disposed opponents, as well as their offensive attitudes and attempts to belittlement. The code of diplomatic work used to leave such unpleasant cases behind the curtain where it belonged. Today, the whole nation is insulted by the actions of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that Georgia has been trying to build partnership with its Northern neighbor for almost five years since October 2012. A simple analysis of the situation at hand brings us to several conclusions. First, the new Georgian foreign policy is valuable to Russia only to the extent that it is no longer facing any problems in the international relations because of Georgia. The meeting between the United States and Russian Presidents in Hamburg was a clear example of this. A multitude of issues was discussed during the two-and-a-half hour meeting, including Russian involvement in the 2016 US elections, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS and North Korea. Neither Russian, nor the US sources and no journalists in any publications, talked about Georgia as an issue on the agenda or a point of discussion during the negotiations. The fact that we are no longer among the key issues of the international order is quite clear. What is worse is that such a trend will ultimately propel our diplomacy to the periphery, with all the consequences associated with this position. Second, the Russian government is testing the patience of the Georgian state through its policy of creeping occupation. It would appear that our government’s patience in this regard is much more flexible than the people’s, which creates an additional threat to Georgia’s stability. A question arises, whether one of the main objectives of the Kremlin’s creeping occupation policy is to undermine the stability of the Georgian state and consequently, that of the incumbent government as well. Third, as the initiative and reigns move to the Russian hands, we serve as secondary players. This is very unfavorable positioning. The art of diplomacy is in, on the one hand expanding your room for maneuver, also limiting the room for maneuver of the opponent on the other. In this regard, we certainly cannot boast to be very successful. Russia is no longer being pressured on the international arena because of Georgia – its room for maneuver consequently expanding. We are left one-on-one with Russia – our room for maneuver diminished. Convincing the Russians in something in a bilateral format as well as getting some results from it is much more difficult. We should also keep in mind that Russia does not particularly bother with actually upholding the agreements – examples for this being abundant in the history of our bilateral relations. Let us attempt to imagine a situation from the realm of fantasy: Russia has stopped military action in the Eastern Ukraine, returned Crimea back to Ukraine, as well as agreeing its positions with the United States and the European Union about Syria and North Korea. Sanctions on Russia are being lifted, it returns to the G8 and becomes and fully respected member of the international community. All this happens despite the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Such a perspective does not exactly inspire enthusiasm. Why did President Trump not pose the issue of Georgia in his conversation with the Russian colleague? Either the President did not consider it to be important enough or there was no appropriate, argumentative request voiced by the Georgian side at the highest possible level. The latter is rather difficult to imagine. Hence, the existing situation has two explanations: either the focus of the issue put by the Georgian side was not where it was supposed to be, or our arguments did not seem very convincing to our American partners. We must prepare the Prime Minister better for such meetings, especially given the fact that a lot of resources are spent on this. This is a great luxury for Georgia in the existing economic situation and must therefore be used at its fullest. As a result, Russia now feels much more comfortable on the occupied Georgian territories and boldly continues its provocations, primarily by the means of the creeping occupation policy. We will have a chance of correcting our mistakes at the end of July and beginning of August, during the visit of the Vice President of the United States of America to Georgia. The configuration of the Vice President’s regional visit (Estonia, Montenegro and Georgia) is very promising and can already be considered as a diplomatic victory, taking us out of the context of the South Caucasus region and approximating us with Europe. It is well understood that the statements supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia will be uttered during the visit – all this is very important in itself. That said it is no less important for the Vice President to specifically condemn the creeping occupation policy and, what is of utmost importance, underline that the issue of Georgia will remain on the agenda of the US-Russian negotiations. It would be good if the Georgian journalists asked a question about this during the Vice President’s press conference. It is necessary in foreign policy to declare your goals. It is better if your goals are further supported by vision and the system of principles and values. Such universally recognized principles of diplomacy include coherence, sustainability, heredity, which, upon implementation, make the foreign policy of a country more valuable and reliable for friends, and harder to cope with for the enemies. We can pose a serious competition to Russians in the field of diplomacy. We certainly cannot challenge them in terms of military and economic potential. As for diplomacy, a serious experience has been pooled since the declaration of independence, the system being filled with young people, who are well educated and free of the Soviet doctrine. However, what is more important, our position is further reinforced by the combined support of the norms and principles of international law, the international community and historical truth. Georgia is not waging war in the Krasnodar Oblast of Russia – it is defending its indigenous territories. In addition to this, we can boldly use our military potential on the territories controlled by us – this is both our right as well as our obligation, especially towards those of our citizens who live near the occupation line. We have the potential and we must act freely and boldly. Without resistance, Russia will surely continue the provocative strategy of creeping occupation. We have been witnessing this for almost nine years. It warrants a separate remark that, in the diplomatic practice, demarcation cannot be done without delimitation first, if, of course, brute force is not being used. There are several examples of this in history – such as the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviet Union in a couple of hours. Our active diplomacy must be complemented with bold actions near the actual occupation line. The very minimum objective for us must be to contain Russia at the de-facto occupation line as it stands today. It would be much better if this were done together with the international community, for example by effectively using the potential of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM); however, until we can achieve this, we must immediately do it through our own forces. What must be done immediately and without any hesitation is to demonstrate the abilities of our state near the occupation line. The essential components of this would be placing the permanent security outposts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia (and not those of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia, as these are still de-jure our territories) and installing the video-surveillance systems equipped with night vision. Special effort must be focused on especially dangerous territories, such as the vicinity of the main motorway. Parallel to this, we must create a virtual map depicting the creeping occupation, with as much detail as possible and reinforced with the legally registered testimonies of the local population. Based upon these materials, we must become more active through the usage of both bilateral as well as multilateral diplomatic formats. We must also form a fund for stopping the creeping occupation. The businesses supported a very important program of Check in Georgia. It is highly likely that the support to this new fund will be much more active, including on the part of the ordinary citizens. The finances of the fund must be used in two main directions – supporting our citizens living near the occupation line and co-financing the actions taken by the state near the line. Among other issues, the creation of such a fund will facilitate the unification of our society in tackling the most dangerous of the challenges facing Georgia. It is time for us to start acting. Russia has managed to create a logic of developments favorable to its interests. We will not tolerate this. The alternative would be the status-quo, which means the lack of action and will further encourage the creeping occupation policy of the Russian Federation and deteriorate an already difficult situation. The Russian reaction will provide us with the grounds for further analysis and planning of our actions. Tue, 18 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT Panel Discussion "The Middle East - Current Challenges" On July 11, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) organized a panel discussion "Middle East – Current Challenges". The event was moderated by Irakli Menagarishvili, the Chairman of the Center for Strategic Studies, the speakers included Davit Batashvili, the specialist on International Relations and Giorgi Sanikidze, the Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Ilia State University. The speakers discussed the key players in the Middle East, the roles, policies and influences of Iran, Turkey, Russia, U.S. and the Gulf States as well as how these policies are interlinked. The speakers also talked about the developments in Syria and the fight against ISIS. They also discussed several possible scenarios of the developments in the Middle East region and the risks associated with each of them. The representatives of expert community, governmental and non-governmental organizations attended the event. The presentations were followed by an engaging discussion between the audience and the speakers. Wed, 12 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT Visit of the Delegation of Shanghai Institutes of International Studies On July 9-11, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) hosted the delegation of Shanghai Institutes of International Studies (SIIS). In the framework of the official visit to Georgia, the members of the delegation met with David Zalkaliani, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Ketevan Vashakidze, the Head of Transport and Logistics Development Policy Department, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia as well as with the representatives of non-governmental organizations: Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS) and Atlantic Council of Georgia. During the visit, the Rondeli Foundation organized the roundtable discussion "Economic Belt of the Silk Road: New Perspectives for Mutually Beneficial Cooperation" with participation of Georgian experts. The event was opened by Ekaterine Metreveli, the President of the Rondeli Foundation. The presentation was delivered by Yang Jian, the Vice-President of SIIS. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Vladimer Papava, the Director of the Center for Applied Economic Studies at the Rondeli Foundation. The speakers emphasized the advantages of Economic Belt of the Silk Road mainly in the aspect of ensuring the security and economic development in the South Caucasus region on global and local levels. The speakers also discussed the future prospects of the development of cooperation between China and Georgia in the areas of economy, education and science. At the end of the meeting a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations was signed by Eka Metreveli (President, Rondeli Foundation) and Chen Dongxiao (President, SIIS). The visit of the SIIS delegation to Georgia was organized by the Rondeli Foundation. Tue, 11 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT Kremlin’s Policy in the Occupied Regions of Georgia Moves to a New Stage Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst Lately, a more active engagement in a variety of fields in Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" from the Russian side can easily be observed. More specifically, the Kremlin has ensured the victory of a desirable candidate in the non-legitimate elections held in de-facto "South Ossetia". The development of military cooperation is ongoing with considerable pace, if with certain problems. The most noteworthy, however, is Kremlin’s policy regarding its staff, touching upon the civil servants and diplomats in connection with the occupied regions of Georgia. During the past two months, Marat Kulakhmetov was appointed on the position of the "Ambassador" of the Russian Federation in the de-facto republic of "South Ossetia," whilst the Russian President’s Administration has welcomed Inal Ardzinba, who is regarded as one of the most promising young politicians in Russia. According to Kremlin’s assumption, the new appointees will ensure a high level of integration of the Georgian occupied territories into Russia. "Election" Control Kremlin’s role became apparent in the 9 April 2017 Presidential Elections held in de-facto "South Ossetia." The main producer of local politics in the pre-election, as well as in the post-election period was Vladislav Surkov, who has served as the Russian President’s Assistant in Social-Economic Interactions with Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" since 20 September 2013. Mr. Surkov’s role became clear already during the pre-election period when the selection of the Presidential candidates was underway. The former de-facto President, Eduard Kokoiti was also planning to participate in the elections; however, he was unable to register as a candidate due to the fact that he had not been living in Tskhinvali regularly for the past five years. On 4 March 2017 Kokoiti accused Surkov of inspiring the decision made by the election administration about the refusal of his registration. Mr. Kokoiti called Surkov a swindler, who, according to his assessment, acted "like South Ossetia belonged to him." Kokoiti accused Surkov, President’s Advisor Aleksei Pilatov and the Head of the Division for Social-Economic Cooperation with CIS Countries and the Republics of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia", Oleg Govorun, of conspiring against him. Despite the fact that all three Presidential candidates were distinguished by their loyalty to Russia, Surkov’s sympathies towards the Chairman of the de-facto Parliament, Anatoly Bibilov, were clear. After the finalization of the elections and before the inauguration, Surkov personally met with the victorious Anatoly Bibilov and called his victory "predictable" and "convincing." Shortly after Anatoly Bibilov’s election for the positon of the President, on 8-9 June 2017, Surkov visited Tskhinvali once again. During his meeting with the de facto leaders of "South Ossetia" Surkov underscored that "the integration must be deep and comprehensive." During the meeting, Surkov also expressed his disappointment with the current level of integration. Increasing Military Influence For the past three months, Russia has been active in the occupied regions of Georgia in the military field as well. On 26 June 2017, during his meeting with the de-facto President of "South Ossetia," the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia, Igor Zubov, stated, that "the creation of the information-coordination center in Tskhinvali is already a determined issue." The agreement on the creation of this center was signed on 4 July 2016. According to the Deputy Minister, funds have already been allocated for the establishment of the center and only technical issues need to be settled. Russia also signed a similar agreement with Sokhumi on 18 May 2017, causing a serious discontent among the political groups and the general population of Abkhazia. Due to the resistance from Sokhumi, the center established there will have lesser authority as compared to the one soon to be established in Tskhinvali. New Appointment ("Doberman") in President’s Administration In terms of the control of domestic political processes and the implementation of the military agreements, Kremlin has been meeting with some resistance from Abkhazia, which is in contrast with the situation in Tskhinvali. An important appointment decision made in the President’s Administration can be considered to be a step aimed at resolving the existing problems. More specifically, on 26 June 2017, according to the directive of the Head of the President’s Administration, Inal Ardzinba, who is an ethnic Abkhaz and a close acquaintance of Surkov’s, was appointed as head of department in the Division for Social-Economic Cooperation with CIS Countries and the Republics of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia." The Division ensures the implementation of Kremlin’s policies in the occupied regions of Georgia. Inal Ardzinba was born in Sokhumi in 1990. His father, Batu Ardzinba took part in the war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993 and received Leon Order for it. Currently, Batu Ardzinba is a famous Abkhazian businessperson and a Director of Moda-Tex company. Inal Ardzinba is a relative of the first de-facto President of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba. After completing school in Sokhumi, he studied at the Faculty of International Economics and World Politics at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow from 2007 to 2012. During his study period, he published a book, titled National Economy of Abkhazia, discussing innovative approaches to the economic development of Abkhazia up to 2020. De-facto President of Abkhazia in 2011-2014, Aleksander Ankvab, is one of reviewers of the book. After graduating from the university in 2012, Ardzinba occupied the position of President’s Assistant in Relations with Government Structures at the largest Russian insurance company, Rosgosstrakh. In 2012, Inal Ardzinba headed the Russian delegation at the G8 Youth Summit held in Washington DC, held parallel to the actual G8 Summit. During the Summit Ardzinba also lobbied in favor of the issues of recognition of the de-facto republics of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia." He also headed the Russian delegation on G20 Youth Summit in Saint Petersburg in 2013 and the G8 Youth Summit in London. At the Summit in Saint Petersburg, he presented the final declaration to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin himself. In 2014, he topped the ratings of Young Leaders of Eurasian Economic Union Member States, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2014, Inal Ardzinba’s career at the Russian President’s Administration begins. For a certain period, he served as a consultant at the Division for Social-Economic Cooperation with CIS Countries and the Republics of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia," moving up to become First Deputy to Vladislav Surkov. He was in charge of Kremlin’s relations with the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ardzinba also personally headed the public support committee for the citizens living in South-Eastern Ukraine. During his work with Surkov, Ardzinba was tasked with overseeing the projects aiming to destabilize the regions of Ukraine. In Ukraine, he is accused of especially severe crimes, namely, the attempt of reviewing the state borders of Ukraine and disrupting the constitutional order of the country. Ukraine has announced international search for Ardzinba. In 2015, he even ended up in the list of enemies of Ukraine, together with Surkov. In December 2015, Ardzinba was accused of destabilizing the situation in Southern Ukraine whilst in March 2016, the former President of Georgia and then Governor of Odessa Oblast in Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili, accused Ardzinba of implementing the so-called Bessarabia Project (the project envisages the creation of the Bessarabian People’s Republic in Odessa Oblast). Inal Ardzinba is one of the most promising young politicians in Russian politics, who, despite his young age, is already involved in implementing Russia’s policies towards Ukraine and Georgia. Ardzinba’s ethnic origins and his personal acquaintance with powerful Russian politicians, Vladimir Putin and Vladislav Surkov, ensure considerable support towards his actions, especially with regard to Abkhazia. It is interesting to notice that due to a strict style of work he is nicknamed Doberman. New Russian "Ambassadors" The activeness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation towards the occupied regions of Georgia manifested itself through the new appointments and infrastructural strengthening of Russian diplomacy. On 18-19 April 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, paid an official visit to Sokhumi where he opened the new Russian Embassy building. According to the existing information, the Minister was also supposed to present the new "Ambassador" to the local political elite; however, as of today, Semyon Grigoriev remains on the position of the "Ambassador" and has been occupying the position of the first "Ambassador" of Russia to Abkhazia since 25 October 2008. Grigoriev is a diplomat who knows quite a lot about Georgia. In 2003-2006, he was Deputy Director of the Fourth CIS Member States Department and was in charge of Russia-Georgia relations. Since 2008, after the war between Georgia and Russia, he came back to the position of Deputy Director of the Fourth CIS Member States Department and was now in charge of the issues concerning Abkhazia and "South Ossetia." According to current information, he is set to be appointed as the "Ambassador" of Russia to Azerbaijan. There was an important appointment in South Ossetia as well – on 23 May 2017, the first "Ambassador" of Russia to the occupied region of "South Ossetia" (in 2008-2017), Elbrus Kargiev was, after his retirement, replaced by a very well-known person in Georgia, Marat Kulakhmetov. Kulakhmetov started his work as the "Ambassador" on 3 July 2017, after handing in his credentials to the de-facto President of "South Ossetia." General-Major of the Russian Armed Forces, Marat Kulakhmetov, was the Commander of the joint peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali from October 2004. Since August 2009 until his appointment as "Ambassador", Kulakhmetov served as an adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in the military-political issues in South Caucasus and Transnistria and Russian military affairs in Central Asia. Kulakhmetov’s appointment, since he is very familiar with the domestic politics of Tskhinvali, will undoubtedly facilitate the integration process of "South Ossetia" with the Russian Federation. Conclusion The steps taken by the Russian Federation in the occupied regions of Georgia for the past three months indicate that the Kremlin intends to expand its influence on the domestic politics of the de-facto republics and hasten their integration into Russian political, military and economic space. In terms of the integration of the occupied regions, the appointments of Marat Kulakhmetov and Inal Ardzinba are undoubtedly important. Appointing two distinguished personalities in the region who are very familiar with the intricacies of local politics, indicates to the beginning of a new stage in Kremlin’s policy, which is designed to ensure the desirable pace of integration of the occupied regions of Georgia into the Russian Federation. Wed, 5 Jul 2017 0:00:00 GMT Public Seminar “Political Economic Discussions with Vladimer Papava” On June 29, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) hosted a public seminar "Political Economic Discussions with Vladimer Papava" on "Inflation Index Modifications and Expediency of their Application for Georgia". The seminar was delivered by Professor Vladimer Papava, the Director of the Center for Applied Economic Studies at the Rondeli Foundation. The speaker presented the aspects of the traditional inflation indicator which requires a great importance in a country’s development, especially in poorer countries, based in the Georgian example as well as discussed the positive experience of inflation targeting and critical considerations and etc. The event was followed by Q&A period. The presentation was attended by the representatives of governmental, non-governmental, academic circle as well as young researchers and students. Thu, 29 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security Author: Zurab Batiashvili, Expert of Oriental Studies, Doctor of Historical Sciences Short History The Arab Spring which started in 2011, soon turned into an Arab Winter for many countries in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria, also starting in 2011, turned out to be especially bloody and has already turned into one of the greatest shaming factors for humankind in the 21st century. The international community proved to be impotent in stopping the conflict, which has distinguished itself by the atrocities, inhuman treatment, torture, rape and human trafficking towards the civilians (including women, children and the elderly) as well as the use of chemical weapons and rising religious fundamentalism. The civil war has thus far already claimed the lives of about half-a-million people with two million injured and twelve million Syrians forced to flee their homes. The civil war was caused by a combination of domestic and external factors: a repressive Shia-Alawite governance for a long period of time (about 74% of the population of Syria are Sunni Muslims whilst about 13% identify as Shia-Alawite), sectarian divisions between ethnic and religious groups, flawed economic model, large-scale corruption, the Shia-Sunni confrontation inside the region, the legitimacy problems of the Assad regime and the political interests of a number of foreign countries in removing Assad from power. Parallel to the prolonged conflict, the moderate opposition forces saw themselves weakened and the international terrorist organizations managed to take up the initiative, starting to attract human resources, weapons and finances from abroad in the name of "Sunni solidarity." The situation further deteriorated by the direct or indirect involvement of the foreign countries in the Syrian conflict. Current Situation As a result, we have a conflict of all against all, involving the Assad regime and its supporters (Russia, Iran and Hezbollah), moderate opposition (Free Syrian Army) and the Sunni countries standing behind it, Daesh (or ISIS), the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda with the name of Al-Nusra Front (called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham today), Syrian Democratic Forces (led by the pro-Kurdish People's Protection Units – YPG) and other, relatively smaller groups. Despite the fact that the involvement of the Russian Federation in the conflict saved the Assad regime from inevitable collapse, it has also created a dead end, without any particular winner in the conflict. As a result of the Russian involvement and the strengthening of Daesh, the issue of removing Assad from power has become less urgent for the West. The Western media mainly talks about Assad when he uses the chemical weapons or when the US military perform their rare aerial bombings on his supporters. Marginally successful peace talks take place periodically – the so-called Geneva Process undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and the Astana talks held with the initiative of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The latter has so far managed to agree on the vague de-escalation zones, which create more questions than answers. The experts talk about the necessity of an agreement similar to the so-called Bosnian Model, which means decentralization and addressing the interests of various groups as much as possible. However, the parties of the conflict are not ready to have real compromise, which, at least at this stage, makes the resolution of the conflict quite doubtful. General Conclusions The events that have unfolded in Syria have shown us several ugly truths, which face not only Syria itself but also the international community in general: Stability in non-democratic countries is mostly superficial and can turn into a serious bloodshed at any given moment; It is not as easy as it might sometimes look from the West to undertake democratic changes in the Middle East, which is so different with its culture and traditions; The terrorist organizations take advantage of the confrontation between the government and the opposition, to the extent that they have managed to institute effective control on certain territories, after which these groups took on the features and ambitions similar to those of ordinary states; After involving itself in Syria, Russia has found a new ambition of becoming a major player outside the Post-Soviet area as well, return to its "former glory" and become a country whose opinion is prioritized in the resolution of international conflicts; Despite the fact that the great powers fight in the Syrian Civil War mainly through their proxies, they still are not shy to get involved in the military action directly. After the downing of the Russian fighter jet by Turkey on 24 November 2015, serious challenges to international security have surfaced in Caucasus-Black Sea region. The powerful countries involved in the conflict might find themselves in a similar situation in the future as well, which will directly influence not only the Syrian Civil War but also the security of the neighboring regions as well (including Caucasus-Black Sea region); Whatever the results of the Syrian conflict, it is clear that this country cannot continue existing in the similar form it existed before. Generating new formulas and ideas will be necessary to create a new arrangement, taking into account the interests of every confessional or ethnic group living in Syria (Sunni, Shia-Alawite, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Circassians and Armenians). This is going to be a serious challenge; The new political arrangement of the country must be satisfactory to the interests of the great powers as well. This is not going to be easy, since in general, these powers have completely different interests in the region; Given the fact that the domestic and external factors causing the conflict have not been resolved, it will be difficult to ensure long-term peace. This is exactly why the peace talks held so far have had no significant results; Millions of people facing humanitarian catastrophe might still flee, not only to the neighboring countries but also to the faraway Europe, creating new kinds of problems and challenges for it, including the ones concerning unity; The Syrian conflict could easily spill over to the other countries in the region as well, similar to the cases of Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Egypt. The governments of these countries have long fought Daesh, which has still managed to hold and control some of their territories; The threats of religious extremism and terrorism have risen both within as well as outside the Middle East. The frequent terrorist attacks in Europe, Turkey and Iraq of late provide clear examples. Groups with radical ideologies have been trying to utilize religious feelings for their interests and will try to do so in the future as well. Such challenges may well arise in Georgia too; Problems originating from sectarianism (mostly Shia-Sunni confrontation) have multiplied in the region, the clearest examples of which are the civil war in Iraq and Yemen as well as Iran-Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia-Qatar confrontations. In this regard, there might be challenges for Georgia as well since part of its Muslim population is Shia whilst another part is Sunni; Over the years, a new reality in the form of Kurdish entities has started to establish itself in the Middle East (first in Iraq and now in Syria too). The United States and in certain terms Russia as well believe the pro-Kurdish forces to be their main allies in the fight against Daesh, consequently providing help to these forces. Turkey believes these groups to be the branches of the terrorist organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Hence, we have an emerging rift between to major NATO members – the United States of America and Turkey. Ankara believes that the possibility of the formation of a Kurdish (autonomous) state entity in Northern Syria is a major threat to its security and does not shy away from using military force against it. There is a danger of further escalation regarding this situation. Lately, the international coalition led by the United States has been actively fighting against Daesh. It is likely that Daesh will have to leave the city of Raqqa as well as other territories. However, the main question is – what will happen after the majority of Daesh’s fighters return to their home countries whilst the remaining part scatters all around the world? In this regard, it should also be noted that Georgian citizens are also fighting in the ranks of Daesh and they have already threatened Georgia in the past; After scattering from Syria, radical extremists might attempt to enter Georgia. Part of these extremists are Georgian citizens, whilst others are foreign nationals. This will create numerous dangers and challenges for the country. As we have seen, the Syrian Civil War creates a multitude of humanitarian, military-political as well as social-economic threats and challenges, both within and outside the Middle Eastern region. Resolving or minimizing these threats will only be possible by taking into account the legitimate claims of local confessional and ethnic groups, as well as by the active involvement and work of the international community. Tue, 27 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Discussion in Ninotsminda on EU Integration On June 26, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) organized a discussion on EU integration for the representatives of ethnic Armenian community in Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti. The lecture was delivered by Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation. He introduced the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) to the audience, discussed the details of cooperation with the EU in various fields including agriculture, energy, transport and many more. The speaker also explained the essence, importance and benefits of visa free travel for the Georgian citizens. The discussion was held under the series of lectures on issues of nationwide importance. The aim of the presentations is to increase the capacity-building of ethnic minority community of Javakheti, to forge a common understanding and vision of the Georgian state among the citizens of Georgia despite their ethnic origin and promote a national integration process in line with the principles of modern, democratic state. As a result, the minority community representatives are better equipped and empowered to become agents of change. Mon, 26 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Memorandum of Understanding with the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre On June 23, 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding between the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) and the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia was adopted. The MoU that was signed by Dr. Eka Metreveli, the President of the Rondeli Foundation and Maia Kipshidze, the Director of the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre envisages to share the knowledge between the parties, exchange academic personnel, encourage training and research activities as well as implement joint projects. Fri, 23 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT