Georgia's Struggle During Crisis in Ukraine

Feb 25, 2014

Dr. Lawrence Pintak, Founding Dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

Intro:  The revolt in Ukraine is reverberating through other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. One of those is the tiny Republic of Georgia, about one-third the size of the state of Washington.  Lawrence Pintak, a veteran foreign correspondent and dean of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, is there and filed this report.

Imagine if Washington State residents had been barred from the Vancouver Olympics because Canada refused to give us visas.

Imagine if we couldn’t get there anyway, because Whatcom County was in revolt – protected by Canadian troops.

Imagine if those same troops had massed on the outskirts of Seattle just a few years before, and were still providing muscle for two other counties that were in rebellion.

Imagine all that and you get some sense of why there wasn’t much enthusiasm here in the Republic of Georgia for the Sochi Olympics, just on the other side of the border..

And you get an idea of why Georgians are watching events in Ukraine with a mix of fascination and concern.

In Kiev the other day, Georiga’s former president said the Cold War may be over for the West, but, in his words, “it’s not over for Vladimir Putin.”

It’s worth noting that Putin once threatened to hang the Georgian leader by his genitals (the actual quote was a bit more graphic). That was back in 2008, when Russian tanks were massed on the outskirts of Tbilisi in the aftermath of a bloody conflict in a breakaway province just 30 miles from the capital. That rebellious province is still under the protection of Putin’s troops.

Georgia’s Rose Revolution, which overthrew a corrupt regime during the breakup of the Soviet Union, was an inspiration for Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. And like Ukraine, Georgia is being pulled between East and West.

The Ukrainian crisis was sparked by the ousted president’s decision to reject closer ties with the European Union in favor of a deal from Moscow he felt he couldn’t – or didn’t want to – refuse. Georgia, which is strongly supported by the U.S., aspires to NATO membership. Both are geographically deep inside what was the Soviet Union and Putin sees the jockeying as Western meddling in Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. Critics here believe it’s much more than that. They think he wants to restore the Russian empire.

Georgians have reason to be nervous. This is a tough neighborhood. Stalin was born here. Chechnya is about a hundred miles to the north, next to several other Russian republics that are usually mentioned in the same breath as terrorism. To the West is the Black Sea, home to the Russian navy.

So you can imagine why Georgians are waiting for the other shoe to drop in Ukraine. They may be 800 miles apart, but the two countries are linked by geopolitics.

Russian support for Georgia’s rebellious provinces is a template for what could happen in Ukraine, with the eastern half of the country, home to Russia’s huge warm water naval base at Sevastopol, rebelling against Kiev. But at the same time, Moscow’s reaction to the Ukrainian uprising will reverberate in Georgia.

Remember Putin’s earthy threat against the former Georgian president? Well, whether Putin reacts to the Ukrainian uprising as a political challenge or a threat to his own manhood will give a pretty good indication of what’s in store for Georgia and the rest of this region in the years ahead.

Copyright 2014 Edward R. Murrow College of Communication