‘Strategic patience’ in Tbilisi

For the first time ever, Liberal International has held its Executive Committee in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, at the invitation of the Republican Party of Georgia. Regional and global security were at the top of the agenda, with a strong presentation by Georgia’s Defence Minister, Tinatin ‘Tina’ Khidasheli on the challenges facing former Soviet republics now finding themselves on the periphery of an expansionist Russia.

To drive the point home, we participants were all bussed out of the city to the ‘occupation line’, which marks the current limit of Russian encroachment into Georgian territory just south of South Ossetia (which the Russians have already effectively annexed, as they did with Ukraine’s Crimea). Just days before, the Russians had rolled a giant barbed wire fence further into Georgian territory, leaving some Georgian farmers cut off from their land and families divided. Tens of thousands of Georgians have already fled South Ossetia and have been resettled or temporarily rehoused.

The trouble is, a tiny country like Georgia cannot stand up to a giant like Putin’s Russia, and so has to adopt a policy of what the Tbilisi government calls ‘strategic patience’. However, one can quite see why the Georgians are keen to join both the EU and NATO. Poignantly, Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakič, appealed to the LI Executive, ‘You can’t say you have an open-door policy and then turn people away’.

Other sessions included a debate on whether the world can unite against ISIS/Daesh – a conflict in which Vladimir Putin and the West ought in principle to be on the same side. There was also a very lively discussion about the implications of the Iran nuclear deal, with the former junior Foreign Minister of Belgium, Annemie Neyts, arguing strongly that we must engage with Tehran, while others urged caution.

However, it was the spectre of the Russian bear that stuck in the minds of many delegates, including myself, and this will doubtless also be the subject of discussion at the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Party Council meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in a few days’ time.

* Jonathan Fryer is Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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4 Comments

  • James Baillie 31st May '16 - 6:27pm

    Out of interest, Jonathan, how liberal are Georgia’s liberal parties (I think there are two ALDE affiliates there?) I ask given recent concerns about the heavy-handed and deeply illiberal nature of some forces within the country, today’s news including a bizarre incident in Tbilisi of meat wielding far-right protestors attacking a vegan cafe with pro-LGBT rights owners.

    Indeed this is a big question that I think liberals need to be asking both about Russia and the states on its borders; whilst our initial and correct instinct is to stand against the aggressor, it is surely just as important to think about how we work to safeguard the rights of individuals and creating climates of tolerance rather than rising reactive nationalism on the Russian periphery.

  • Stevan Rose 31st May '16 - 6:53pm

    I hesitate to take sides here. Some South Ossetians view the Russians as protectors against ethnic Georgians. As do many Crimeans against Ukrainians. It is too easy to take at face value the views of amiable hosts without considering the historical and cultural context. The French, after all, occupied Calais in 1558 and it’s about time they gave it us back. The concept of fixed borders is a very recent concept.

  • Georgia is a fascinating place. The Church seems to have an increasing role, which from what I hear is quite hard line against many things. One story I heard was that Priests voilently broke up Halloween parties last year !! Anyway a good place to visit ( I have been twice in the last couple of years as my brother has beeen working there) if you want to go somewhere different and most things are in english too!!

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