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Keeping An Eye on Canaries

By Alexander (Kakha) Lomaia
"Tabula" magazine, 26 November '12

Until devices were invented to measure levels of methane and carbon monoxide gases in coal mines, miners relied for their survival on caged canaries. Able to detect small concentrations of lethal gases in the mines, the caged songbirds would stop singing – either temporarily or for good – upon sensing a dangerous concentration. Miners knew they were safe as long as the canaries kept singing and would instantly evacuate dangerous sections of the mines once the singing stopped.

Society also needs some sort of canaries – indicators that point out danger in various fields of that sphere of state government.

I put together fifteen foreign policy directions and projects that essentially represent Georgia’s place in the region and in the world. These policy issues can be divided into two groups: those which must be continued and those which must not be allowed to proceed. Advancement of the first group of policies – defined through concerted efforts of hundreds of diplomats, politicians, civil servants and experts over the course of years – will serve our national interests. As for the issues in the second group, we may allow them to proceed at our own peril as they represent red lines that should not be crossed.

What Must Be Continued

• NATO integration – (1) Annual action plan must be fulfilled; since 2008, Georgia has successfully fulfilled four action plans; (2) The high level and frequency of the NATO-Georgia Commission sessions must be maintained; (3) The practice of holding sessions of the Atlantic Council in Tbilisi must be kept up; (4) Frequency of visits of the NATO Secretary General to Georgia must be maintained; 5) The level and frequency of visits of the NATO Military Commission to Georgia must be maintained. Unfortunately, the scheduled November visit of the NATO Military Commission to Georgia has been postponed.

• Rapprochement with the European Union – Negotiations must be completed on the following agreements: (1) EU-Georgia Association Agreement; (2) Deep and Free Trade Agreement; (3) Visa Liberalization Agreement. All three objectives were expected to be met in 2013.

• Strategic Partnership with the United States – The high level and frequency of meetings of all four working groups of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership and the summary annual session must be maintained. Agreements achieved in the defense area must be implemented. High-level dialogue launched on free trade must be continued and developed into negotiation on a Free Trade Agreement.

• Non-recognition policy towards occupied territories – (1) Proactive multi-dimensional diplomacy must be continued, especially in Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and South Pacific, involving bilateral political consultations, visits, cooperation in humanitarian, cultural and educational fields; (2) the process of establishing diplomatic ties with UN member states must be completed – there are fifteen countries left.

• Geneva talks – The immediate objective is to have Russia assume the obligation on non-use of force. Owing to Georgia’s efforts, Russia, for the first time ever, in October, declared its consent to work on the document for the non-use of force. The Geneva talks represent the only negotiation format with Russia that is based on international and impartial mediation as well as on clear and fair rules of the game.

• European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) – The EUMM must be maintained and supported. This mission is the only mechanism for implementing the six-point ceasefire agreement signed by Georgia and Russia. EUMM is an effective and principled partner in demanding that Russian military forces be withdrawn from Georgia and in unswervingly defending our territorial integrity.

• Establishment of the term “occupation” – The question here is, how many more states and international organizations will line up with those who have adopted resolutions on Russia’s occupation of Georgian territories? Currently there are five states – Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, United Kingdom, and the United States, and seven international organizations - Baltic Assembly, Community of Democracies, European Parliament, Francophone Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Unfortunately, the term “occupation” is absent from the new government’s program which was adopted by the Parliament on 24 October.

• UN Resolution – Support for the General Assembly Resolution on the Status of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia has to be further strengthened. The resolution recognizes the right of IDPs to return “to their homes throughout Georgia, including in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Russia wants the resolution to be dropped from the agenda of the UN General Assembly, claiming that it is an “impediment” to the Geneva process. It has been five years now that Russia has been fighting against the resolution and it has lost the vote every year with an increasingly larger margin.

• Status-neutral travel document (STND) – Success of this crucial element of the Engagement Strategy is determined by its attractiveness, which in turn will be shaped by how many more states will recognize the document. Currently, there are nine states that do recognize the STND: Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States.

• Access of Georgian products to the Russian market – By joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russia assumed the obligation of allowing Georgian products to its market. Russia will not be able to apply a politically motivated trade embargo any more. In return for its WTO membership, Russia signed an agreement that recognizes Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.

What Must Not Be Done

• Abolition of the Law on Occupation – This Law serves as a serious legal leverage against Russia’s efforts, as well as a potent mechanism against those persons, companies or countries which intentionally violate our territorial integrity. The Law is flexible enough, allowing for tactical maneuvering. Abolition of the Law would be used by Russia to de-legitimize the term “occupation.”

• Recognition of Russia as a “mediator” and Tskhinvali and Sokhumi as “parties” to the conflicts – This step would undermine the notion of “occupation” and, consequently, would render the demand for de-occupation illegitimate. Russia is an occupying power that illegally keeps its military forces on the territory of Georgia and exercises an effective control over the occupied regions. Consequently, neither can Russia now be a “mediator” nor can Tskhinvali and Sokhumi now be “parties” to the conflicts. Those notions are mutually incompatible.

• Abolition or revision of the Engagement Strategy and its Action Plan – Either abolition or revision would be perceived as a change of course and as de-legitimization of the notion of “occupation.”

• Accession to the Eurasian institutions – Russia has spared no effort to lure its neighbors into Eurasian customs, economic and political unions. Very few neighbors have been lured and Georgia must never be among them.

• Transit of Russian military cargoes – Georgia does not allow the transit of Russian military cargoes through its territory. Allowing such cargoes across the Georgian territory in any direction would inflict irreparable damage to our strategic interests in the region.

The analysis of these indicators will show in which direction we are heading – toward the European and Euro-Atlantic integration or in the opposite direction.

Let's then keep a close eye on the canaries in the coal mine.


Before 2003, Alexander "Kaha" Lomaia served as Executive Director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation (Soros Foundation). Following the Rose Revolution in November 2003, Lomaia received the post of Minister for Education and Science in the new government of President Mikheil Saakashvili and spearheaded a large-scale reform in Georgia's education system. In 2007 he became Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia and actively participated in negotiation during the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. From 2009 until recent parliamentary elections, he served as Permanent Representative of Georgia to the UN.

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