Paata Zakareishvili
Former State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality from 2012 until 2016. Georgia.

The main result of the current stage of the war in Ukraine is that Russia made a mistake in all its calculations. Moscow was planning for a long time before invading, but from the very first hours something went wrong. The “special operation”, as Russia called its actions on the territory of another state, quickly turned into a war, no matter how the Kremlin avoided this word. Where did Russia go wrong? In that she considered Ukraine as weak and indecisive as in 2014, when Kyiv, and the whole world, swallowed the annexation of Crimea, Moscow did not expect that Ukraine would fight better than eight years ago in Donetsk and Luhansk. Then Russia managed to take control of parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Russian arrest of ships in the Sea of ​​Azov[1], threats from the Kremlin, which did not like the fact that a British warship sailed off the coast of Crimea[2]... Seeing that the world turned a blind eye to these episodes, Moscow decided that it was possible to act even more brazenly – the world would not react even now. Russia convinced itself of its omnipotence and was sure that it would easily achieve its plans in Ukraine, but this time the world did not give in. Moscow has lost control of the situation – now it is the situation that is dictating the terms.

The coronavirus pandemic has also played a cruel joke. Already suspicious, Russian President Vladimir Putin has become even more withdrawn into himself. Strict observance of physical distance at long tables during meetings with foreign guests and other comic scenes that have spread on social networks indicate that V. Putin shuns and avoids contact with people. As one can see, he has distanced himself from his inner circle. Putin's "lecture" on the history of Ukraine, which he gave on 21 February, showed that the Russian president deliberately distances himself from reality. He lives more comfortably in the myths he has created, and his entourage helps him to believe in them. Belief in these myths led Russia to invade Ukraine, thereby taking a step into the abyss. The war is not over yet, but the main conclusion can already be drawn – with one action, Russia is overthrowing itself and creating Ukraine.

What is happening now is what should have happened after the First World War, as a result of which Prussia, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires ceased to exist. Only Russia survived – at first it was saved by Bolshevism, then the idea of ​​imperialism continued to smoulder thanks to the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. The tragedy of Putin is that he wanted to recreate something quasi-imperial, but in the end he cannot even keep what he inherited from Yeltsin. Wishing to strengthen the "Russian world", he has destroyed the Slavic one. Having seized power from Yeltsin in due time, Putin believed that he was saving Russia, but it turned out that he was ruining it. Yeltsin, having signed the Belovezhskaja Accords on 8 December 1991 (with the heads of Belarus S. Shushkevich and Ukraine L. Kravchuk), in the ruins of the collapsing Soviet Union, preserved the smouldering embers of Russian imperialism, from which a fire broke out during Putin's rule. It was thanks to Yeltsin that the three Slavic republics broke away from the USSR and established the foundation of the CIS. Ukraine, Belarus and Russia became the core, around which Central Asia and other countries were later “built up” (Georgia was the last to join the CIS and the first to leave). So, Putin has transformed this core from a semi-decayed state into final disintegration. With this released energy, the Slavs today are at war with each other. And as one can see, the end of Russian imperialism will be brought about not by the Americans and not by the Chinese, but by the Ukrainians. The Angel of Death for Russian imperialism was Kyiv – "Mother of Russian cities"[3]. This is very symbolic. I think for Putin the scene of the arrival of the Angel of Death in the shape of Ukraine looks very impressive.

Ukraine and Russia: Today and Tomorrow

By invading Ukraine, Putin not only destroyed Russian imperialism, but also completed the creation of the Ukrainian nation. Today Ukraine is an established nation. She is finally freed from paternalistic attitudes. If in a certain part of Ukrainian society there were doubts about the importance of the connection with Russia, then after the start of the war, they completely evaporated. In the modern history of Ukraine, Russia will take the same role that fascist Germany plays in it. The only difference is that the memory of the current war will be stronger, because today, in the age of the Internet, all events are carefully documented. Terrible pictures from Bucha and other cities will always stand before one’s eyes. The Ukrainians will have two big victories over the enemies of humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries – a victory over German fascism and a victory over Russian imperialism. Both phenomena were a global threat, the Ukrainian people were able to resist both.

How will events develop further? One of the likely scenarios is that Kyiv and Moscow will agree (most likely on Ukraine's terms), the troops will disperse and negotiations will begin. The Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk will remain in the basket of negotiations. The most acceptable concession that Kyiv can make is neutrality and refusal to aspire to NATO. Given the huge sacrifices that the country is making, such a decision must be respected. In the end, one can always return to this topic, depending on how Russia will change in terms of democratisation. For Ukraine, the main challenge today is not to slip into a military democracy. History shows that the shadows of the First and Second World Wars often haunted the victors. In the victorious countries, generals were easily tempted by the authorities – Charles de Gaulle in France, D. Eisenhower in the USA, L. Brezhnev and N. Khrushchev in the USSR. But a good warrior does not mean a “good politician”. The question “Where were you during the war?” should not be heard in the new Ukraine. If the country avoids this, it will be trusted, and it will be easier for Western democracies to support it.

I believe that the biggest changes after the signing of a peace-treaty between Kyiv and Moscow will take place in Russia. As long as Putin is in power, the international community should not lift economic sanctions. The removal of Putin from governing the country should become a public or at least an unspoken condition for the lifting of sanctions. The President of the Russian Federation cannot go unpunished, but the punishment will not be in the style of Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler – he must be ousted from power, as Khrushchev or Yeltsin were ousted in their time. Putin's place should be taken by another politician, most likely also not a democrat, but one who will determine a new course. The new Russia, as during the “thaw” of Khrushchev, will have to purge itself of its international “sins” – it will withdraw its troops from Ukraine (including the Crimea), Moldova and Georgia. These will be Russia's obligations not only to Ukraine, but also to itself and the world=community. If Russia abandons its imperial ambitions and starts reforms, the world-community will support it and lift sanctions. Contrary to the myths of the Russian authorities, no-one wants the collapse of Russia, the world is interested in its integrity and democratisation.

How the war in Ukraine will affect the South Caucasus region

The domino-principle has been set in motion. The weakening of Russia will definitely affect the processes in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the countries of Central Asia. Russia does not have enough resources to monitor all fronts simultaneously. Existential challenges are coming for the countries of the post-Soviet space. The peoples who want to get rid of, or reduce, dependence on Russia have a chance. They can use it, or they can, once again, miss out.


After the events in Nagorno-Karabakh in the autumn of 2020, Turkey strengthened its position in the South Caucasus[4]. Having shown itself to be a decisive player in the confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey also resolutely appeared in Russo-Ukrainian relations. Against the backdrop of a weakening Russia, Turkey is expanding its spheres of influence. Ankara has closed the skies to Russian aircraft flying to Syria, restricted the access of Russian warships to the Black Sea, supports Ukraine and sells weapons to it (Turkish-made drones bomb Russian troops). However, Moscow does not criticise Ankara. On the contrary, the press-secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov said that Russia and Turkey have "excellent relations in which partnership based on mutual benefit prevails". By agreeing to negotiate with Kyiv on Turkish territory, Moscow shows that it takes Ankara's interests into account and accepts the new reality.

Turkey can be styled the ruler of the Black Sea: it is a member of NATO, the keeper of the keys of the Bosphorus, the initiator of a new sea-route bypassing the Bosphorus (Istanbul Canal). Among the international interests of Ankara, there are three areas that are relevant for the Caucasus region: firstly, there is Turkey's clear interest in the South Caucasus; secondly, there is its expanding influence in the Black Sea; and, thirdly, there are the prospects for access to Central Asia. Regarding the first area, there is the Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey: the countries conduct military exercises together, implement joint energy-projects, and synchronise common interests in the geopolitical context. Of all the countries of the South Caucasus, only Armenia remains on the sidelines so far, but the negotiations that have begun between Erevan and Ankara are encouraging. I think it is within Turkey's power to convince Armenia that nothing threatens its sovereignty and that a worthy presence of Armenia in the region can contribute. In addition, Ilham Aliev and Nikol Pashinjan have already met twice in Brussels. They outlined the contours of a peace-treaty. The meeting took place without the mediation of Russia. This suggests that Erevan and Baku can agree on their own. If Erevan, on the one hand, and Baku-Ankara, on the other, find a common language, the South Caucasus will change dramatically. A new common context will emerge with which Russia will have to reckon.

As for the second area, Turkey seeks to be strengthening its influence in the Black Sea. Turkey should not benefit from the expansion of Russian influence in the Black Sea region. Georgia can have its say here. If an Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey bloc is possible in the South Caucasian context, why can't a Ukraine-Georgia-Turkey bloc be possible in the Black Sea context? Such an alliance could strengthen Turkey. Tbilisi should support Ankara in this endeavour. Moreover, Turkey has always pursued a consistent policy towards Georgia ­– it respected its territorial integrity and never took ambiguous actions. This is the only neighbouring state with which Georgia has coordinated borders.

Turkey is also strengthening in other areas. The situation in Syria attracts attention. Given the fact that Russia has to pay more and more attention to Ukraine, conditions are being created for Ankara to expand its involvement in Syria. Against the backdrop of a general weakening of Russia, Iran and Turkey can claim their places in Syria. However, strengthening of Iran in the region does not suit either the West or Israel. It can be expected that Europe, the US and Israel will allow Turkey’s strengthening rather than Iran’s. Most likely, the balance of power in Syria will change in favour of Turkey.


In the new realities, Georgia has a chance to find its exclusive place. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Georgian authorities took a neutral position. However, the cautious policy of not irritating the northern neighbour did not bring results. On the contrary, the de facto president of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, in defiance of Georgian-Russian relations, proposed holding a referendum on South Ossetia joining Russia, and deputies of the Russian Duma and senators of the Federation Council welcomed this initiative. Georgia has an opportunity to use Bibilov's voluntarism and adjust its policy towards Russia. The world should be proactively reminded that Georgia is just as much a victim of Russian imperialism as Ukraine. Especially since the first victim of Moscow's new aggressive policy, which Putin announced in Munich in 2007, was precisely Georgia. On 12 August 2008, after a five-day war, Russia signed a six-point "Ceasefire-plan", under which it committed to withdraw its troops to the position of 7 August 2008. This document is “live”, all its provisions are being implemented. On its basis, the "Geneva talks" and the UN Observer Mission (EUMM) are conducted, and they are still operating today. Only one point is not being fulfilled, the fifth – Russia is not withdrawing its troops in accordance with the obligations it undertook. Tbilisi has been constantly raising this topic, but now, after 23 February, it has stopped doing so. Although, right now is the most opportune moment, by supporting Ukraine, as the world is doing, to insist on Russia fulfilling its obligations under the "six-point ceasefire-plan".

Instead of “reviving” the Georgian case in the international arena, Georgia is pursuing a strange policy: on the one hand, at the UN General Assembly, it votes for the exclusion of Russia from the Human Rights Council, and in The Hague it supports a lawsuit against Russia, but, on the other hand, it does not join international sanctions and does not insist on the Kremlin withdrawing its troops. Such a strange approach may be explained by the fact that Georgia is easily involved in a collective "chorus", where its voice is drowned out among others, but where it is necessary to sing solo with one voice, Tbilisi remains silent, thereby strengthening Moscow's positions, freeing it from the status of an aggressor and in respect of another state too. The main thing in the Ukrainian crisis is not Ukraine, but Russian imperialism. Ukraine did not annoy anyone, there was no provoked aggression on its part. Despite this, Russia attacked her.

Today, the ruling Georgian Dream Party has a chance to correct the mistake, which, in its opinion, was made in 2008 by the government of the United National Movement. Now is not the time to turn the Ukrainian topic into an internal political showdown – we need to use this unique opportunity and move the country's interests forward in the implementation of the "six-point ceasefire-plan". When the world starts lifting sanctions on Russia, the international community must be reminded that Russia has not yet fulfilled its obligations to Georgia. By this, Georgia will strengthen its commitment to resolve the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts by exclusively peaceful means.

The probable withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Georgia may create additional challenges for Georgia. The Abkhazian and South Ossetian societies are concerned about the issue of security. Their fears stem from the fact that, when Russian troops leave the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, no-one will protect them. Sukhumi and Tskhinvali fear being left face to face with Tbilisi. Therefore, Tbilisi must constantly send clear messages to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian sides in the conflicts. Georgia must convince them that it will never, under any circumstances, resolve the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts by military means. Such a way of resolving the conflict is excluded, as is laid down in the "six-point ceasefire-plan". Georgia has signed agreements on the inadmissibility of a military solution to the conflict with 27 EU countries – with each separately. Even if such a short-sighted idea comes into someone's head, then Georgia will violate not one, but as many as 27 treaties – and then the country can forever forget about its European aspirations.

In this context, it should be borne in mind that the observers of the European Union Mission (EUMM) are working along the ‘line-of-contact’ on the basis, again, of the “six-point ceasefire-plan”. By the way, the EUMM in Georgia is the most suitable structure that can replace the Russian troops, which are perceived by the Abkhazians and Ossetians as guarantors of their security. When Russia withdraws its troops, there will be no need to invent anything new – it is enough to expand and supplement the powers of European observers, turning them into EU peace-keeping forces. This possibility is not ruled out by their mandate. This is a unique chance, real and quite feasible, of which Georgia can take advantage at this stage. In the context of the weakening of Russia's position, it will be difficult for the Abkhazian and South Ossetian societies to refuse such an opportunity to replace their security system from Russian to European.

There is one more point to which attention is worth paying. Sukhumi and Tskhinvali are constantly demanding to sign some kind of agreement on the non-use of force. Georgia constantly refuses to discuss this issue. Until now, the position of official Tbilisi (both of the former government of the United National Movement, and of the current ruling Georgian Dream party) is as follows: as long as Russian armed forces are stationed on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it makes no sense to sign an agreement with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali as parties to the conflict on the non-use of force, since they cannot ensure that a commitment is made in the presence of Russian armed forces. In the new realities, this becomes possible. The possible withdrawal of Russian forces allows us to return to this issue.

After the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Georgia, Georgian-Russian relations may develop in a different direction. The new, post-Putin Russia will find it beneficial to cooperate with Georgia – for example, on the topic of the North Caucasus. Georgia could help Russia support sustainable peace and democratisation in the North Caucasian republics.




[3] And Oleg, the Prince in Kiev, sat down and said: “Behold the mother of Russian cities.” And she has Slovenes and Varangians and others, nicknamed Rus[1]

[4] Turkish Rubicon – Karabakh, Russia –