U.S.-Georgia Relations: Regaining Territorial Integrity

By Nicholas Dima l February 2, 2009

On September 3, 2008, President George W. Bush stated that the United States applauded the actions taken by the European Union to help rebuild the independent and sovereign nation of Georgia, adding, “I am announcing one billion in additional economic assistance to meet Georgia’s humanitarian needs and to support its economic recovery.” The White House also commended the European Union’s commitment to deploy an independent OSCE mission to monitor developments in Georgia. At the same time, the president stressed that the international monitors “must have access to the entire region of conflict, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in accordance with the cease-fire agreement.” The same statement stressed that the U.S. expects Russia’s “full compliance in redeploying forces to their pre-August 7 positions…” This expectation, however, is unrealistic.

The Republican position was commendable. Georgia badly needs financial assistance and moral support from the West, but what it needs the most is help to regain its territorial integrity. From this point of view the Western pledges do not meet Tbilisi’s expectations. Furthermore, the new Democrat administration may park this issue on a back burner. What can the United States do in the Caucasus without risking an international conflict that could escalate?

The United States and Russia are now situated where the Western allies and the former Soviet Union were at the end of World War II. With the nod of the West, Moscow then annexed almost whatever territory it wanted. And in spite of its promises, Moscow transformed the occupied countries into ruthless totalitarian states and pawns in its geopolitical game. As Europe was split in 1945, so is the Caucasian region today. The United States may have the upper hand in Georgia and Azerbaijan, but Russia controls Armenia and vital parts of both Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the immediate post-war years of the last century, the United States saved Western Europe through the implementation of the Marshall plan, but for almost 50 years it did not do anything to help Eastern Europe. Will history repeat itself now in the Caucasus?

In May 2005, America and its allies marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and for the first time ever condemned publicly the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 that led to the war. In addition, President George W. Bush denounced the Yalta Agreement of 1945 and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. As reported by the Washington Post on May 8, 2005, Mr. Bush stated: “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.” Will rebuilding the remaining territory of Georgia, following the Russian invasion of August 7, 2008, suffice? Will the Georgian citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia share the fate of Eastern Europe, which was abandoned behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years?

On January 9, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Georgian counterpart signed the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership. The accord outlines cooperation in defense, trade, energy security and stresses that “the United States supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as its aspirations for integration into the institutions of the Euro-Atlantic.” How will the U.S. help Georgia regain its lost territories when Russia’s President Dimitry Medvedev declared unequivocally that “Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is final and irrevocable?” This rigid Russian stand threatens the position of Georgia as an independent and sovereign nation, as well as that of its president. On January 26, Mikheil Saakashvili stated that he will not step down as Moscow and some Georgian politicians insist. Yet, his tenure is very weak. And if he is replaced, the next president will have to be less pro-American. This is the price the West will pay for accommodating the new Russia. In a way, it is a repeat of 1945 East Europe.

In the current economic and financial situation in which the world finds itself, neither Russia nor the U. S. wants a new Cold War. However, the game between the two is intricate and dangerous, requiring a high degree of diplomatic experience on the part of the new Obama administration. Washington may want to chip away at Russia’s sphere of interests, but Russia is an experienced chess player. Moscow fears encirclement and is determined to do everything to counteract it. For example, it is now playing America’s European allies like a fiddle, enjoying already a measure of success. Russia is also extending its international reach into Syria, Yemen, Libya and Venezuela. And in late January, Moscow announced that it will open a naval base in Abkhazia, the very Georgian province that it helped to secede from Georgia. To regain credibility and loyalty, America will have to address the aspirations of the Georgian people, not only play on their fears and desperation. Most importantly, Washington will have to find a way to help Georgia regain control of its territory.

Nicholas Dima, Ph.D., is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. (Refer to updated editions). He is currently a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.