George Katcharava - On the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, there is no alternative to Georgia’s EU and NATO membership to ensure our national security and prosperity

Two years has passed since Russian aggression against Ukraine, "Interpressnews" spoke with George Katcharava, International Security and International Relations Specialist, about global and regional politico-military and economic consequences of the war in Ukraine.

- Mr. Katcharava, two years have passed since Russia launched a large-scale war against Ukraine. For the past two years, Ukraine and its authorities have been resisting Russian aggression with the support of European and American partners.

Since the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine, civilized world has made a choice in support of Ukraine, as a sovereign state, its territorial integrity, existing international security system and international law.

In the early period of war we have witnessed many speculations such as the war is only about Russia and Ukraine, moreover, that the collective West and the Kremlin were even negotiating the "division of Ukraine", but it did not turn out to be true.

In fact, Russia-Ukraine war is about values between the collective West and Russia, accompanied by economic-financial, informational-psychological and hybrid wars.

The Russian leader constantly states that Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet area is vital space for his country, which is unacceptable for the civilized world.

There are quite a few questions that I would like to talk about, but I will first ask the following question - before Russia started the war in Ukraine, how much has the world and the pre-war security architecture of the civilized world changed since the start of the war in Ukraine?

- You correctly pointed out, Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine caused serious damage to the existing international order, above all the existing security system. After two years of the war, we clearly see the dividing lines that have not been so clearly aggravated despite their existence so far. This indicates a breakdown of the previously existing balance sheet in today's world, which in itself creates new security challenges on a global scale.

From a regional perspective, in addition to Eastern Europe, such changes are taking place in the Middle East. The large-scale terrorist operation organized by Hamas on October 7 has shaken existing security system across the region.

It is hard to imagine that such a development would be possible at any other time. The war in Ukraine seems to have encouraged the destructive forces operating in the Middle East, and we are witnessing a very strong wave of destabilization in the wider region.

Signs of destabilization appeared in the Western Balkans as well, where the still unsolved problems were once again exposed in Pristina-Belgrade relations and the contradictory domestic political environment of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Fortunately, peace in the Western Balkans region is preserved through powerful American and Western influence and presence on the ground.

There are concerning situation in the Far East, where not long ago we witnessed isolated small-scale military confrontations on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, it is worth noting that the process of militarization by all the key players in this region is underway, which can be seen as a consequence of the degradation of the mentioned global security system.

We also see increased military spending by all Western democracies. The impression is that the world is preparing for a great war and this has already become a global trend. Why is this happening? If we look at the world map, in terms of potential threats, today it seems clear that the world is facing far more security challenges than it was two years ago. The war in Ukraine played the role of a catalyst for these processes, thereby undermining the balance of world security.

- How high is the likelihood that the West and the U.S. in particular will be reconciled to the Kremlin to maintain the existing status quo concerning Ukraine?

- I would say, the questioned asked is not exactly correct way of looking at the current situation. I think that the current processes in Ukraine and around it, should be considered through disposition on the battlefield, in the economy, as well as internal and external political factors.

What do we have to consider in this regard? Firstly, the political controversy in the United States, which is taking place within the Republican party, where one fairly small group is confronting the rest of the political elite, over the allocation of the assistance package for Ukraine.

This issue is complex and multi-faceted and covers a wide range of US internal political dynamics. Despite the delay that we have been following for more than four months, the assistance still reaches Ukraine, but not the needed volumes.

As is known several other options can also be considered for provision of such an assistance, including in the form of credit, which will subsequently be taken over by European partners. Or at least using certain procedural nuances, the aid package might be put for voting in thre congressional agenda, where it is highly likely to be approved. Either way, this issue should be resolved in the near future.

The next important sphere is the economy, which also includes sanctions policy. This is a very important aspect, to weaken Russia's economic potential, so that it does not have enough means to wage the war. New sanction packages are regularly composed, which becomes more and more painful for Russia.

However, it should also be noted that the economic impact on such a resource reach country like Russia is very difficult. Therefore, we are witnessing that through third countries, Russia still manages to maintain trade relationships worldwide, and thus maintain economic activity in global markets. From an internal economic point of view, I agree that Russia managed to revive certain segments of the military industry in the last two years, thus renewing its potential for longer-term military operations.

Another aspect that directly relates to your question is the political one. In this sense, Russia is isolated from the main political centers of the world. However, it should also be noted that Russia partially managed to create certain circle of countries that provide support for its war efforts, either by supplying weapons, or even creating suitable environment for Russia to establish trade relationships.

This allows Russia to more or less minimize the losses caused by sanctions, and thus endure the difficulties that it is facing.

Now as for the potential agreements on Ukraine - as has been said many times by world leaders, no deal will happen about Ukraine, without Ukraine's participation, and this is natural, because it is simply impossible. Even with the participation of Ukraine for such a deal, the consent of the Ukrainian public is required.

In my opinion, the Ukrainian society today and its vast majority are not ready to give a mandate for such negotiations either to its government or to anyone else.

- Russian TV propaganda media made a lot of noise regarding the question of Ukrainian MP Goncharenko, he addressed the US Secretary of State Blinken.

The question sounded like this - if Ukraine is not accepted into NATO, Ukraine that is fighting Russia which is nuclear state, Ukraine has no other way to restore its nuclear weapons...

We remember that in due time, in particular, in 1994, the US and Great Britain were the countries who took obligation to guarantee sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine.

In a situation where according to American intelligence, Moscow is planning deploy nuclear weapons into space, it seems not surprising that Ukraine's political circles are openly airing such questions.

It is understandable that it would not be desirable for Washington to have Ukraine have its nuclear weapons, but unless there is another way to stop Russia, how high is the likelihood that the U.S. will help Ukraine develop its nuclear weapons?

- We have heard such talks not once even before Goncharenko. This is really a very complicated issue. According to the 1994 memorandum, Ukraine agreed to dismantle the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world and agreed to the status of a non-nuclear country. Despite Russia's gross violation of this document, Ukraine has not yet officially rejected these obligations.

In the current international conditions, despite the dire consequences of war in Ukraine, I can hardly imagine Ukraine taking such a step. However, I think Ukraine has everything at its hands to re-develop nuclear weapons, and I don't think external assistance would be needed in such a case. Although, once again, I must emphasize that in the current situation, such a step by Ukraine will not actually have supporters in the West.

This stipulated by the prospects that such a move by Ukraine could push other countries to develop such weapons. And believe me, there are quite a number of states around the world who want to have nuclear weapons.

We have to understand that under such circumstances the challenges may take the world to a completely different level of nuclear threat, and this process, which is now regulated by many restraining agreements and strictly controlled rules, can become completely unmanageable or, even worse, chaotic. Therefore, different voices that are stating that Ukraine should have nuclear weapons is probably more of an emotional expression rather than something realistic.

- Russian aggression in Ukraine two years ago has made it clear that Russia is supported by authoritarian countries - China, Iran, North Korea. Iran and North Korea openly support Russia.

As for China, in its statements it supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but, despite this, the President of China still has not met with the President of Ukraine. Moreover, it is hard to believe that Pyongyang would be able to provide arms to Russia, without Beijing's consent.

Recently, China's ambassador's call in the United Nations to the United States to stop the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and bring Ukraine and Russia back to the Minsk-2 raised certain questions and concerns regarding China’s position on the Ukraine. In due course, we all know that Ukraine refused the Minsk-2 format.

What is the position of China regarding the Russia-Ukraine war and what influence Beijing’s heavy-weight status can bring into this process?

- China is a big and important player in today's world. Of course, it also has global ambitions, and this is natural. If you remember, not long ago, China presented its plan to resolve the issue of Ukraine. It was, and I think it still is China's official position on this issue.

More recently, during his speech in Davos, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed his country's unwavering support for Ukraine's territorial integrity. In doing so, China does not question Russia's belonging to Donbas and other occupied and annexed territories. This is very important.

As for other aspects. In my opinion, at a meeting between Chairman Xi Jinping and President Biden in San Francisco last year, there was a reconciling of positions on this issue. The relevance of the agreements reached by two leaders in San Francisco was actually reaffirmed by Mr. Wang Yi during his speech in Davos.

Therefore, today China clearly and actively does not interfere with the public discussion of the problem of Ukraine, although in my opinion, consultations between the main political centers are certainly taking place.

In terms of relations between China and Russia, Beijing shows quite restraint. It is clear that the trade turnover between the two countries has reached a record USD 240 billion annually, taking into account sanctions imposed on Russia.

However, this is not surprising, because on the one hand, China purchased about half of the oil exported by Russia, in turn Chinese companies occupied Russian market after mass exodus of western companies.

It is also worth noting that of course China is worried about the sanctions imposed on Russia, as there is a danger that certain Chinese companies may also be included in the sanction list. But the trade turnover with Russia cannot be compared in any way to the volumes of Chinese trade with Europe and the U.S.

Therefore, due to the importance of economic integration and trade turnover with the West, China has responsible and highly balanced approaches to the Russia-Ukraine war.

- After Russia imposed economic sanctions on Russia for the aggression that began in Ukraine, there are no flights through Russian airspace with little exception, Russian ports are closed, this created serious problems for Central Asian countries that carried their goods to and from Europe through Russia.

Thus, we see active use of the "middle corridor", which is going through Georgia and whose prospects are increasing, as the war in Ukraine prologues.

Because of Russia-Ukraine two-year war, what impact we see in the post-Soviet countries, including the countries of the South Caucasus?

- The impact quite noticeable. You correctly mentioned, the countries of Central Asia were logistically mainly supplied through Russia, by rail transport. The current situation completely changed the usual transport lines. This led to an increase in demand for the "middle corridor" to which Georgia is a key country. In addition, for Russia, Georgia and its transit infrastructure proved to be crucial for carrying out trade with the outside world.

In addition, the membership of Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as the increase in cargo volumes, destined to those countries and intended for Russia, reached record highs. All of this increased cargo turnover in the "middle corridor" countries and also clearly highlighted the need to modernize transport infrastructure, ports, railways and highways.

Along with positive factors, negative aspects have clearly appeared. Of course, in addition to legitimate cargoes, unscrupulous business entities have a great temptation to use these routes to transport sanctioned cargo.

This is why from time to time we discover some companies on the sanctioned list that have been noticed by the United States or other Western countries in the transportation or trade of such goods.

This, of course, poses serious problems to the functionality of the "middle corridor" and indicates not only commercial attraction to it, but also other types of attention that is focused on the violation of the sanctions regime.

- The fact is that turbulence in world politics has increased in the face of the Russia-Ukraine war, including for countries that are neighbors of aggressive Russia and are quite vulnerable to the Kremlin.

Despite the fact that since the start of the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Georgian authorities have pursued a rather cautious policy, the country has received the status of a candidate country of the European Union and is actively cooperating with the EU and NATO.

In the light of what is happening now in and around Ukraine, where is Georgia and how successful and promising foreign policy it produces?

- I agree with you, Georgia's foreign policy is very cautious and measured during these difficult times. And this should not be surprising either. We have very difficult relations with Russia. It is impossible to resolve these difficulties in the relations without de-occupation of Georgian territories.

At the same time, despite the complicated attitude towards Russia itself, the unsettled relations between Russia and Georgia can turn into confrontation at any moment. Neither Georgia nor our allies are not ready for this.

Moreover, it would be fair to say that realistically it is not in the interest of Russia to have another confrontation with Georgia at this particular stage. Ironically speaking, the importance of Georgia to Russia has increased due to its international political, military and economic circumstance that surrounds it in today’s world.

But I'd also like to remind you of what we were talking about, the global security system is degrading. This trend will persist in a longer-run, than we initially thought and will likely be defining factor the field of international politics for some time.

From a foreign policy point of view, the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgia, which are enshrined in the Constitution, certainly has no alternative for the country.

In this regard, I would like to emphasize one important aspect, which is security. This is the most important factor for the internal stability, as well as for the implementation of its foreign policy objectives and the regional positioning of the country.

While Georgia has received EU candidate status, which is undoubtedly a great progress and achievement, we must understand that the during different recent waves of EU expansion eastwards, every single new member has been first integrated into NATO, thus assuring security of the new EU member countries first and foremost.

Consequently, EU membership is offered to the country only when it has resolved its security issues. In case of Georgia, as in case of others, such a security can only be acquired through the path to membership in the North Atlantic Alliance and its overall security system.


Koba Bendeliani

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