Kremlin wary of emerging Kyiv-Tbilisi axis

Volume 2 Issue 16 (January 24, 2005)
By Igor Torbakov

Russian analysts are growing uneasy over what they see as a nascent geostrategic relationship between the "post-revolutionary" governments of Georgia and Ukraine. Moscow is wary that pro-Western leaders in Kyiv and Tbilisi will weaken its geopolitical dominance in the former Soviet lands by challenging Russia-led integrationist projects and developing closer ties with Euro-Atlantic structures.

In his inaugural speech to the tens of thousands of his supporters on January 23, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko clearly stated that his government's political goal is democracy and its geopolitical orientation is toward Europe. He called the triumph of the Orange Revolution a "victory of freedom over tyranny," adding. "Our road into the future is the road on which a united Europe is headed" (AP, January 23).

Remarkably, Yushchenko's political statement caused an immediate response in Tbilisi. Talking to a reporter from the liberal Russian daily Vremya novostei, Georgia's French-born and famously outspoken foreign minister Salome Zourabichvili noted, "A new important factor is emerging in European politics, which is a democratic axis of Tbilisi-Kyiv, or even Tbilisi-Kyiv-Warsaw." She said that this development is important also for Russia, which would be well advised to "think it over" (Vremya novostei, January 24).

When Georgian national flags began to appear alongside Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flags in Kyiv's Independence Square last November, Moscow-based foreign policy experts sensed that this development would not bode well for what they hold to be Russia's vital national interests. Their premonitions proved correct. One of the Orange Revolution's most important geopolitical outcomes, both Georgian and Ukrainian policymakers argue, is that it ended Tbilisi's "strategic isolation."

As Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili noted, his country's detractors initially dismissed the Rose Revolution as a "strange aberration with roots in the extravagant, perhaps theatrical, nature of Georgian society." But the recent events in Ukraine testify to the growth of a powerful reform movement, which, Saakashvili argues, will spread "throughout the whole post-Soviet region" and will ultimately lead to the "completion of the third and final wave of European liberation" (Financial Times, December 20). Zourabichvili was even blunter, saying that as a result of the Ukrainian developments Russia would not be able to dominate the post-Soviet space (EDM, December 13).

The political declaration made by Ukrainian president-elect Viktor Yushchenko and Saakashvili during their joint Christmas holiday in the Carpathian Mountains led some Russian strategists to believe that Moscow is facing a real geopolitical challenge in what it still regards as its legitimate sphere of influence. According to one commentary, "Near Russia's borders there appeared two states whose presidents are political twins. Enjoying the support of the West, they will be pursuing their national interests in a much tougher way than they did before" (Vremya novostei, January 18).

The so-called Carpathian Declaration, announced by the two leaders in a picturesque village near Lviv, builds on Saakashvili's notion of the "final European liberation." The document proclaims: "

We are certain that the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine shape the new wave of liberty in Europe. They will usher in the ultimate victory of liberty and democracy across the continent of Europe" (Le Figaro, January 11).
The fact that Kyiv and Tbilisi are passionately calling for the liberation of the continent -- the western and central parts of which have long been free -- was not lost on most Russian analysts. To be sure, they contend, the calls to "spread freedom" pertain to Eastern Europe and the Black Sea countries -- members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Furthermore, argues Kirill Frolov, head of Ukraine desk at the Institute for the Study of the CIS, the liberation rhetoric presupposes a putative aggressor. "Clearly, Frolov says, they mean that Russia is [such an aggressor]," adding that the Carpathian Declaration is directly aimed against Russia's strategic interests (APNru, January 11).

A policy paper penned by Anatoly Tsyganok, a military expert at the Moscow-based Institute of Political and Military Analysis, discusses the strategic challenges the emerging Kyiv-Tbilisi axis presents for Russia.

According to Tsyganok, the similarity in political philosophy of their leaders ("mild nationalism and respect of pan-human values") and almost identical views on regional security issues as well as on the ways to settle the Caucasus conflicts will inevitably bring the two countries closer together. "The situation in Georgia puts this country in the center of Ukraine's geopolitical interests," Tsyganok points out. "At the same time, without Ukraine's full support Georgia will not be able to start resolving its internal conflicts." Also, the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents appear to "share the same foreign policy priorities" -- a desire to have closer cooperation with NATO and the EU and a mutual opposition to Russia's integrationist plans within the CIS.

Furthermore, the Russian expert predicts, Georgia and Ukraine might present a united front to address the issue of Russia's military presence on their territory. "It cannot be excluded that Ukraine will demand a review of the treaty on Russia's lease of Crimean naval infrastructure, which was signed on May 28, 1997, for a period of 20 years," Tsyganok warns. For its part, Tbilisi, "relying on the support of such a [geopolitical] heavyweight like Ukraine," will likely become more insistent on Russia vacating the military facilities in Gudauta and Akhalkalaki (, January 13, Vremya novostei, January 18).

Remarkably, in his speech last week at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov specifically focused on his country's military presence in the post-Soviet space. According to Ivanov, for Russia, the interest in the CIS countries, including its defense and security aspect, "is a [strategic] priority." That is why, he warned -- in an apparent reference to the revolutionary rhetoric coming from Kyiv and Tbilisi -- Russia would "react very sharply to the export of revolutions to the CIS countries" (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 17).