Russia’s attempt to bully the small nation of Georgia into dependence on Moscow and acquiescence to its policies appears to be backfiring badly.
Last October, Russia, by far Georgia’s largest trading partner, embargoed all trade, transportation, communications and financial connections with the former Soviet satellite. The instant cause of the dispute was Georgia’s arrest of four Russian military officers on espionage charges, but the two nations have an ongoing border dispute and Moscow was irked about its neighbor’s growing Western ways. The embargo should have brought Georgia to its knees. Instead, Tbilisi set out to replace the loss of $400 million in exports to Russia with other sources of trade and investment, and seems to have succeeded.
The Persian Gulf states and Kazakhstan are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in energy projects, the Black Sea ports and real estate development.
Georgia has signed a deal with neighboring Azerbaijan to supply 80 percent of its energy needs, greatly lessening its dependence on Russia, and, more importantly, it has signed agreements with Turkey and Azerbaijan to build a railroad and oil and gas pipelines to connect Europe with Central Asia via a route that avoids Russia.
Russia’s heavy-handed use of the energy card has won it few friends in Europe and made the European Union and NATO much more kindly disposed toward Georgia. Indeed, President Mikheil Saakasvili said Georgia hoped to achieve NATO membership in 2009.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal while he was in Brussels to enlist the support of the EU, Saakasvili said, “I always say thank you for this embargo and I mean it.”
We wouldn’t go that far, but the embargo has made Georgia more independent, self-reliant and pro-West. This is not what the Kremlin had in mind.