Mr. Paul Stronski a Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaks with Presa.ge about future perspectives of visaliberalisation in U.S, relations with the EU and present situation in the Caucasus region.
- Mr. Stronski I want to ask you about future perspectives for Georgia to get visaliberalisation not only in Europe also in the USA? In your opinion, how real and how far is this chance for Georgia?
- On getting visa liberalization with the United States, I think that is still a long-way off. EU Head Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal was a political decision. In the U.S., decisions on visa-free access is a technical decision – one that is based on highly detailed data on the numbers of visa issued from a specific country and the percentage of that number that either overstays their visa or changes their visa status while in the U.S. Neither the U.S. President nor Congress have the authority to give visa free status if a country does not meet those technical criteria. So, it is a tougher prospect in the U.S. South Korea, for example, only was granted visa waiver status to the U.S. in 2008 despite the strong U.S.-South Korean alliance dating since the 1950s.
- How do you estimate positive conclusion of euro commission? Is it a big step for Georgia? How we can use it?
- Yes, the proposal for visa free travel for Georgians to the EU is a positive development. I’m particularly pleased with the announcement given all of the concerns in Europe about border security issues. I thought the EU would be tightening visa access for all, instead of promoting visa liberalization. So, I am pleasantly surprised by the development. It is a big step, which I hope will help expand trade and cultural ties between the EU and Georgia, and create greater opportunities for Georgian entrepreneurship. I do think that European concern over border security after the Paris terrorist attack could delay the realization of the proposal. That terrorist attack has nothing to do with Georgia, but there are calls in many part of Europe to close borders. So, it is possible that the proposal could get delayed because of that. I hope that is not the case, though.
- How do you think, what we need to improve to hurry the process of becoming a real European country?
- On becoming a “real European country,” I’d have to say there is no “normal” European country. Some members of the EU has dysfunctional politics or economic problems, and the EU as a whole has struggled to deal the migrant/refugee issues. Georgia’s geographic location and history provide it with extra challenges that a country like France or Belgium. Those two countries face no direct threats from Russia and generally have stable and friendly neighbors on all sides. One thing I think Georgia does need to do is break the political logjam that Georgian politics frequently suffers from and move away from highly personalized politics. Political parties or coalitions still tend to be based around a single strong personality, whereas greater political stability will likely come when politics is not driven by strong personalities.
- How do you rate present situation in our region? What are the main threats and perspective directions?
- I believe there is a strong potential for regional instability in the Caucasus region. The collapse of Russian-Turkish relations is worrying, particularly because Georgia is the country that is between the two. We have very harsh nationalist rhetoric coming out of both Moscow and Ankara, and nationalist rhetoric often creates dangerous situations where one side or the other can miscalculate and create very conflict. A conflict between Russia and Turkey could involve closing off the Dardanelles, which would effectively close off the Black Sea, which would have clear repercussions for Georgia.
In addition to Russia and Turkey, the civil war in Syria is worrying too. I do not see a direct impact on Georgia, but we have a major civil war going on in a region not to far away. That civil war is attracting extremists from all across the world, including from Russia. Given Georgia’s location, Georgia can clearly be a transit space for extremists moving from the Middle East to Russia and back again.
In addition, we have regional conflicts. The Ukraine war is troubling and again raises questions about Black Sea security. The Ukraine war has diverted attention in Europe and the United States away from other regional conflicts, including the Georgia conflicts. And, that is worrying. Russia’s actions in Ukraine also show that Russia is increasingly an unpredictable actor.
On top of that is the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We have had a bloody year along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves. We’ve seen civilians killed and tanks used. A war there would pit Georgia’s neighbors against each other. It also would pit an ally of Turkey (Azerbaijan) against an ally of Russia (Armenia). If the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh truly erupts, it as the potential to turn into a proxy war. That would be disconcerting for Georgia too.