To most people around the world, Europe is synonymous with cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam and so on. The mention of Europe invokes thoughts of France, Germany, the UK and other western European countries. The current geopolitical climate though, has pulled the attention to the east of Europe. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has made the world realize that there is more to the geography of Europe than what at first meets the eye. In the backdrop of this conflict though, a new set of nations have emerged, either as power brokers, or as key regions for both NATO and the Russian state. The one thing that ties these nations, is their proximity to the Black Sea, a large body of water that serves as the trade path way for the countries which surround it.
The Black Sea serves Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Turkey, giving all of these nations access to the Aegean Sea, and by extension the Mediterranean Sea. This allows these nations to trade with the rest of the world and as a result the Black Sea is one of the most important trade hubs in Europe. This was made especially apparent when despite their animosity, Russia and Ukraine made agreements to allow both nations access to the Black Sea as the war and the subsequent survival of both nations depends on it. Turkey has also found its stock rising in the international fraternity after acting as a broker between the warring Russia and Ukraine, something that western countries failed miserably at.
Georgia has also gained immense importance in this situation because of its close proximity to Russia. Since the war began, NATO and the EU have made open attempts to bring Georgia into the fold as a member. This has obviously garnered the ire of the Russian state. The result of this geopolitical push and pull around Georgia has been civil unrest within its borders. A clash of ideologies has arisen between the majority which wants Georgia to join the rest of Europe and a minority which does not wish to conform to the western agenda.
This conflict came to a head roughly five months ago when the ruling party passed the Foreign Agent Draft Bill, a derivative of Russian laws targeting critical media and NGOs. This led to wide scale protests in the capital city of Tbilisi causing extensive damage during demonstrations. A major issue raised by the protestors was the fact that this new bill and its implications would affect Georgia’s EU candidacy. What was even more alarming was that the bill was supported by PM Irakli Gharibashvili.
In the present moment, the ‘Georgian Dream’ party has initiated an impeachment attempt citing the public dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister’s decisions. It is understandable that a major section of Georgian society has stood against siding with Russia considering the history between the two nations. Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008. Following the conflict, relations between the two nations improved but the conflict with Ukraine has opened old wounds. The ground reality is that the average Georgian citizen empathizes with the people of Ukraine. Beyond that, the unprovoked attack on Ukraine has also put other nations in the region, like Georgia on notice. The general consensus being that if Russia can attack Ukraine, it can do the same to the other countries surrounding it. As luck would have it, from a strategic perspective, Georgia would be the next natural target for the Russian army.
As if intuitively, Russia has matched this consensus by threatening Georgia in recent days as the they hold advanced talks with NATO to expedite their membership bid. President Putin’s close aide, Dmitry Medvedev made it very clear, in explicit terms that Russia would annex Georgian territories if the nation didn’t stop in it’s bid to seek EU membership.
These developments have made Georgia a major player in the Black Sea group as it could be ground zero for another conflict that could cause an international escalation, pulling western countries into a wide scale war with Russia. Even though Russia has suffered due to the Ukraine conflict, especially when it comes to losing a large number of its troops, the conventional wisdom in this regard dictates that Russia would be willing to do so. A study of Russian tactics in major wars shows that the Russian army tends to lose a large number of troops in the beginning of major conflicts with the idea of consolidating its resources and gaining vital ground level experience. This, coupled with the lack in the enemy’s troops and resources is then used to go on the counter offensive. Whether this tactic is being repeated in the current conflict is yet to be seen. Something to consider though, is that Russia has lost ground to Ukraine in recent months. He Ukrainian counter offensive has managed to break Russian lines and cause a shift in the conflict. Yet, the lack of resources and logistical ability on the Ukrainian end is well known and could very well come back to haunt them.
Even though it might seem like Russia is too busy with Ukraine to open up another front with Georgia, most observers suspect that Russia is capable of doing so if it wishes to. This explains the hurried manner in which both sides are trying to get Georgia’s membership bid pushed through. Whether they will manage to do so and bring Georgia into the protective blanket of NATO before Russia attempts to attack them is yet to be seen.
What the current situation does delineate though, is that the coming few days and months are crucial for all the parties involved. If Russia fails to control the situation, it will see it’s worst nightmare come to life, being surrounded by NATO. If the European Union doesn’t get Georgia onside in time and Russia initiates a conflict they will have to fund and back another conflict without the ability to get directly involved against Russia. Most importantly, if Georgia doesn’t manage to get its internal politics in order, it will most likely find itself being crushed between two superpowers, quite like Ukraine did.