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Authored by Dr. Svante E. Cornell. | April 2007
Since its independence, Georgia has been the most vocally independent-minded country in the former Soviet Union. Russia countered Georgia's independence by strong support for secessionist minorities such as those in Abkhazia and south Ossetia. Since President Vladimir Putin's coming to power, Russian pressure on Georgia to reverse its pro-Western course has grown measurably. Following the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, relations with Russia turned sour as the new government proved both democratic and single-mindedly focused on rebuilding the Georgian state, resolving the secessionist conflicts, and seeking NATO membership—all anathema to Moscow.
The security and success of Georgia is very important to Western interests in general and to those of the United States in particular. Beyond the hope that Georgia represents for successful state-building and democratic development in both the former Soviet Union and the wider Middle East, this country is a key strategic pivot for the transportation of Eurasia's energy resources, as well as for western access to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Moscow is moving toward a creeping annexation of sovereign Georgian territory, and in the process is undermining confidence-building between Georgia and its secessionist minorities and increasing the danger of a military flare-up. Beyond this, Moscow has tried to squeeze Georgia's economy by manipulating energy supplies, instigating a wholesale trade and transport embargo, and deporting ethnic Georgians from Russia. These measures distract Georgia from its reform process, though Russia so far has failed to achieve its purposes.
Faced with this situation, the United States needs to develop a coherent and proactive rather than reactive policy toward the region. This must first include a reassessment of relations with Russia. Moreover, a strategic approach to Georgia should include continued support for Georgia's reforms; increased support for the internationalization of the peacekeeping and negotiation structures in Georgia's conflicts; and measures to support increased trade relations with Georgia to provide for alternative markets. All these will be possible only through a strengthened U.S. commitment to Georgia's NATO membership, greater cooperation with European partners, and, not least, improved coordination among the various agencies of the U.S. Government with regard to initiatives concerning this country.