Why Does Lavrov Call Georgia An “Anomaly” in the Post-Soviet Space?

By David Iberi

On July 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an interview to Mir, a Russian television and radio company. The themes chosen for discussion reflected on Russia’s relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, and the present and future of the Moscow-led loose organization that includes most of the post-Soviet republics. Lavrov also spoke about the conflicts in the CIS space, more specifically over Nagorno-Karabakh and Transdnistria, and the closer ties the Kremlin is now developing with Ukraine’s new pro-Russian government under President Viktor Yanukovich.

When touching upon the issue of what forges together the CIS countries, Lavrov singled out “the centuries of shared history, the common economic and other infrastructure created over those long decades and centuries, and the common cultural [and] civilizational space.” But he also said that “modernizing the economy [has] become a priority for all” in the CIS space and that “modernization is the slogan of the day for all.” By “modernization” Lavrov, to be sure, meant only economic, but not political and social transformation of Russia and its CIS allies. He then lashed out against Western institutions and NGOs helping to create an “alternative” system in some of the countries, which, in Lavrov’s view, undermines the cohesiveness and integrity of the post-Soviet space.

The journalist’s question on Georgia – which is not a CIS country – immediately followed and Lavrov was quick to call Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “an anomaly which in general does not grow from within Georgian society but was brought there from the outside.” The Russian foreign minister’s words indicated Moscow’s irritation with the 2003 peaceful Rose Revolution – supported by the West – that replaced the old Soviet/Russian style leadership marred in corruption and nepotism with young reformers seeking to modernize and Westernize Georgia’s institutions, elites, political culture, and economic and social milieu.

Consolidating Georgia’s sovereignty and transforming the country from a Kremlin satellite into a nation on a path toward Euro-Atlantic integration and NATO membership has been another reason why Moscow is deeply concerned. In his article “Failed No Longer” that appeared in Foreign Policy on April 15, 2010, the Georgian president wrote about the significant progress his country has made in building a European-style liberal democracy. “Very early in my presidency,” Saakashvili wrote “then Russian President Vladimir Putin called me to say that he would be ready to accept our new Georgian regime, as long as he could name our ministers of interior and foreign affairs.”

Apparently, this conversation took place sometime in early 2004, shortly after the Rose Revolution, and what the Russian premier arguably sought to accomplish was to abort any attempts by the young Georgian leaders to undertake radical reforms that would detach their country from the Russian system, both politically and ideologically. Saakashvili chose to not obey, and Georgia has thus turned into an “anomaly,” to use Lavrov’s definition, across the entire post-Soviet space which the Kremlin claims as its sphere of influence.

Moscow fears that despite the Obama Administration’s declared “reset” policy with Russia, Washington’s stance on the “Georgia question” has not changed. Similar to President Bush, who in May 2005 described Georgia as “a beacon of liberty for this region and the world,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton five years later in July 2010 referred the potential of Georgia “to serve as a beacon and model for democracy and progress” as “extraordinary.”