GFSIS http://cbgl.gfsis.org/ Georgian Foundation For Strategic and International Studies - events. Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/723 Author: Zurab Batiashvili, Expert of Oriental Studies, Doctor of Historical Sciences Short History The Arab Spring which started in 2011, soon turned into an Arab Winter for many countries in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria, also starting in 2011, turned out to be especially bloody and has already turned into one of the greatest shaming factors for humankind in the 21st century. The international community proved to be impotent in stopping the conflict, which has distinguished itself by the atrocities, inhuman treatment, torture, rape and human trafficking towards the civilians (including women, children and the elderly) as well as the use of chemical weapons and rising religious fundamentalism. The civil war has thus far already claimed the lives of about half-a-million people with two million injured and twelve million Syrians forced to flee their homes. The civil war was caused by a combination of domestic and external factors: a repressive Shia-Alawite governance for a long period of time (about 74% of the population of Syria are Sunni Muslims whilst about 13% identify as Shia-Alawite), sectarian divisions between ethnic and religious groups, flawed economic model, large-scale corruption, the Shia-Sunni confrontation inside the region, the legitimacy problems of the Assad regime and the political interests of a number of foreign countries in removing Assad from power. Parallel to the prolonged conflict, the moderate opposition forces saw themselves weakened and the international terrorist organizations managed to take up the initiative, starting to attract human resources, weapons and finances from abroad in the name of "Sunni solidarity." The situation further deteriorated by the direct or indirect involvement of the foreign countries in the Syrian conflict. Current Situation As a result, we have a conflict of all against all, involving the Assad regime and its supporters (Russia, Iran and Hezbollah), moderate opposition (Free Syrian Army) and the Sunni countries standing behind it, Daesh (or ISIS), the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda with the name of Al-Nusra Front (called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham today), Syrian Democratic Forces (led by the pro-Kurdish People's Protection Units – YPG) and other, relatively smaller groups. Despite the fact that the involvement of the Russian Federation in the conflict saved the Assad regime from inevitable collapse, it has also created a dead end, without any particular winner in the conflict. As a result of the Russian involvement and the strengthening of Daesh, the issue of removing Assad from power has become less urgent for the West. The Western media mainly talks about Assad when he uses the chemical weapons or when the US military perform their rare aerial bombings on his supporters. Marginally successful peace talks take place periodically – the so-called Geneva Process undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and the Astana talks held with the initiative of Russia, Turkey and Iran. The latter has so far managed to agree on the vague de-escalation zones, which create more questions than answers. The experts talk about the necessity of an agreement similar to the so-called Bosnian Model, which means decentralization and addressing the interests of various groups as much as possible. However, the parties of the conflict are not ready to have real compromise, which, at least at this stage, makes the resolution of the conflict quite doubtful. General Conclusions The events that have unfolded in Syria have shown us several ugly truths, which face not only Syria itself but also the international community in general: Stability in non-democratic countries is mostly superficial and can turn into a serious bloodshed at any given moment; It is not as easy as it might sometimes look from the West to undertake democratic changes in the Middle East, which is so different with its culture and traditions; The terrorist organizations take advantage of the confrontation between the government and the opposition, to the extent that they have managed to institute effective control on certain territories, after which these groups took on the features and ambitions similar to those of ordinary states; After involving itself in Syria, Russia has found a new ambition of becoming a major player outside the Post-Soviet area as well, return to its "former glory" and become a country whose opinion is prioritized in the resolution of international conflicts; Despite the fact that the great powers fight in the Syrian Civil War mainly through their proxies, they still are not shy to get involved in the military action directly. After the downing of the Russian fighter jet by Turkey on 24 November 2015, serious challenges to international security have surfaced in Caucasus-Black Sea region. The powerful countries involved in the conflict might find themselves in a similar situation in the future as well, which will directly influence not only the Syrian Civil War but also the security of the neighboring regions as well (including Caucasus-Black Sea region); Whatever the results of the Syrian conflict, it is clear that this country cannot continue existing in the similar form it existed before. Generating new formulas and ideas will be necessary to create a new arrangement, taking into account the interests of every confessional or ethnic group living in Syria (Sunni, Shia-Alawite, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Circassians and Armenians). This is going to be a serious challenge; The new political arrangement of the country must be satisfactory to the interests of the great powers as well. This is not going to be easy, since in general, these powers have completely different interests in the region; Given the fact that the domestic and external factors causing the conflict have not been resolved, it will be difficult to ensure long-term peace. This is exactly why the peace talks held so far have had no significant results; Millions of people facing humanitarian catastrophe might still flee, not only to the neighboring countries but also to the faraway Europe, creating new kinds of problems and challenges for it, including the ones concerning unity; The Syrian conflict could easily spill over to the other countries in the region as well, similar to the cases of Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Egypt. The governments of these countries have long fought Daesh, which has still managed to hold and control some of their territories; The threats of religious extremism and terrorism have risen both within as well as outside the Middle East. The frequent terrorist attacks in Europe, Turkey and Iraq of late provide clear examples. Groups with radical ideologies have been trying to utilize religious feelings for their interests and will try to do so in the future as well. Such challenges may well arise in Georgia too; Problems originating from sectarianism (mostly Shia-Sunni confrontation) have multiplied in the region, the clearest examples of which are the civil war in Iraq and Yemen as well as Iran-Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia-Qatar confrontations. In this regard, there might be challenges for Georgia as well since part of its Muslim population is Shia whilst another part is Sunni; Over the years, a new reality in the form of Kurdish entities has started to establish itself in the Middle East (first in Iraq and now in Syria too). The United States and in certain terms Russia as well believe the pro-Kurdish forces to be their main allies in the fight against Daesh, consequently providing help to these forces. Turkey believes these groups to be the branches of the terrorist organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Hence, we have an emerging rift between to major NATO members – the United States of America and Turkey. Ankara believes that the possibility of the formation of a Kurdish (autonomous) state entity in Northern Syria is a major threat to its security and does not shy away from using military force against it. There is a danger of further escalation regarding this situation. Lately, the international coalition led by the United States has been actively fighting against Daesh. It is likely that Daesh will have to leave the city of Raqqa as well as other territories. However, the main question is – what will happen after the majority of Daesh’s fighters return to their home countries whilst the remaining part scatters all around the world? In this regard, it should also be noted that Georgian citizens are also fighting in the ranks of Daesh and they have already threatened Georgia in the past; After scattering from Syria, radical extremists might attempt to enter Georgia. Part of these extremists are Georgian citizens, whilst others are foreign nationals. This will create numerous dangers and challenges for the country. As we have seen, the Syrian Civil War creates a multitude of humanitarian, military-political as well as social-economic threats and challenges, both within and outside the Middle Eastern region. Resolving or minimizing these threats will only be possible by taking into account the legitimate claims of local confessional and ethnic groups, as well as by the active involvement and work of the international community. Tue, 27 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Discussion in Ninotsminda on EU Integration http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/724 On June 26, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) organized a discussion on EU integration for the representatives of ethnic Armenian community in Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti. The lecture was delivered by Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation. He introduced the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) to the audience, discussed the details of cooperation with the EU in various fields including agriculture, energy, transport and many more. The speaker also explained the essence, importance and benefits of visa free travel for the Georgian citizens. The discussion was held under the series of lectures on issues of nationwide importance. The aim of the presentations is to increase the capacity-building of ethnic minority community of Javakheti, to forge a common understanding and vision of the Georgian state among the citizens of Georgia despite their ethnic origin and promote a national integration process in line with the principles of modern, democratic state. As a result, the minority community representatives are better equipped and empowered to become agents of change. Mon, 26 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Memorandum of Understanding with the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/721 On June 23, 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding between the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) and the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia was adopted. The MoU that was signed by Dr. Eka Metreveli, the President of the Rondeli Foundation and Maia Kipshidze, the Director of the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training Centre envisages to share the knowledge between the parties, exchange academic personnel, encourage training and research activities as well as implement joint projects. Fri, 23 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT The Winnable Second Round of Russia’s Neighbors’ Struggle against Its Imperialism http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/719 Author: David Batashvili, International Relations Analyst There is a degree of haunting resemblance between the period after 1917 and the one since 1991. The empire built by Russia crumbles. Its core immediately launches an effort to take back the nations that broke away. Specific political formulas of such efforts differ in these two periods, but the essence is the same – prevent them from being truly independent. The newly liberated states resist the former master’s onslaught against their sovereignty. They are hampered by the weakness of their newborn institutions, and by infighting. Sometimes the resisting states are willing and able to help each other, but too often they aren’t. The stakes are very high. Consequences of a potential defeat for the newly restored nations are sickening. Russia won the fight in 1918-1921, adding occupation of the three Baltic states in 1940 as an epilogue. By the end of World War II, only Finland stood completely free, if not completely whole. What Russia’s neighbors are going through right now is a ‘second round’ of this struggle. And, for all the similarities, there are crucial differences between it and the ‘first round’. The danger in which the restored nations find themselves is grave indeed, but these differences give them a real chance to preserve their freedom this time. Occupation of the three Baltic States, 1940 A Difference of Timing One obvious distinction is that under the Bolsheviks Russia managed to re-establish control over most of the lost territories very quickly – it took about four years. Obviously, this time things did not go like that. The primary reason is the difference between political conditions in Russia in the years after 1917 on the one hand, and the period after 1991 on the other. After the Bolsheviks came to power, they quickly established an effective totalitarian regime. Dissent was crushed and resources directed for strategic purposes in an exceedingly ruthless, bloody, but efficient manner. Moreover, their ideology, powerful as young totalitarianisms usually are, helped the Bolsheviks in control of Russia build huge fifth columns in the nations they targeted for taking over. These factors contributed to their relatively quick recapture of most of the Russian Empire’s former colonies. Situation after 1991 was very different. There was no strong ideology in Russia to build on (nor is there presently), and the country was weakened by the demise of the artificial Soviet socio-economic system. Moscow did as much damage to the new nations as it could, with Georgia perhaps the most vivid example, if we don’t count Chechnya; yet it was in no position to fully crush their sovereignty in the 1990s. Entrenchment of the Nation-State Identity From this reality was born the second crucial distinction between the two rounds of the struggle: this time the re-established states actually had some time for the nation-building. They have been constantly hampered and damaged by Russia in the process, but at least they remained in existence. This allowed their independent identities tied to the national sovereignty become entrenched in ways that were impossible in 1918-1921, with a whole new generation being born and grown up apart from the empire. Of course, the counter-argument here can be that the Baltic states also got such time in 1918-1940, and it did not save them. But, first of all, it did save Finland. Second, the occupation of the Baltic states happened in the exceptional time when the international system was burning in the fire of World War II, and precisely at the moment when France was falling in June 1940. And third, taking over countries with a fully formed and entrenched nation-state identity is a difficult and messy affair in any case, as demonstrated by the years of the Baltic guerilla resistance movements. The Empire’s Exhausted Vigor The third difference lies in the erosion of the fundamental national resource of modern Russia. Prior to World War I, Russia was a rapidly developing country with enormous potential. Similarly to what has been going on in China since the 1980s, the early 20th century Russia was transforming its huge demographic resource into industrial power. It was caught by World War I in the middle of that road. Yet, despite the devastations of the Great War, and then the Russian Civil War, that massive fundamental national resource of Russia was still there. It took waves of social genocide in the 1930s, followed by World War II and the subsequent decades of ugly socio-economic engineering, to critically undermine that potential. The Bolsheviks mismanaged and squandered Russia’s riches, first of all its human resources, but at least they had a lot to squander. Which means, they had a lot of time to attack the nations that had regained freedom in 1918. Even if the nations that fell in 1918-1921 had managed to keep their independence at that time, they would have trouble doing so later – a point vividly demonstrated during World War II by the occupation of the three Baltic states, vassalization of Poland and determined attack against Finland. Presently time works against Russia: it is a deeply undermined country demographically, socially and politically, and the trend it towards worse, not better. Putin’s or his successors’ regime won’t get the decades that the Communists had. Unlike Stalin’s USSR in 1939 as compared to the early Bolsheviks, today’s Russia is not going to be more powerful 20 years later. This time, its neighbors defending their sovereignty are facing not a barely stoppable road roller, but a giant with feet of clay. That giant is very dangerous, but also very compromised. A Different West The fourth important factor that is different this time is the West. In the last year and immediate aftermath of World War I, the priority of the victorious powers was dealing with Germany. There was general understanding that the Bolshevik regime in Russia was unacceptable and dangerous, but there was not enough political will to confront it in a manner that actually would make a difference. All moves against the Bolsheviks were feeble and half-hearted. Even when in 1920 the Red Russian armies were at the doors of Warsaw – in the center of Europe - the Poles had to defeat that onslaught themselves. No Entente forces came to help them keep the re-expanding Russia in check. Besides, there were no permanent structures that would keep the victors in a single alliance after the war. Now the West is different. True, it has a great number of apparently deteriorating problems, and its elements still have serious issues with generating political will to confront Russian expansionism. But it is incomparably more united than it was after World War I, and this unity has strong institutional forms. With Germany this time being part of the solution, instead of the problem, Europe has no bigger geopolitical problem than aggressive Russia. After years of efforts, Vladimir Putin finally managed to sufficiently concentrate the Western minds with his invasion of Ukraine. The notion that Moscow’s imperial ambitions need to be confronted ceased being considered alarmist, and transferred into the mainstream. The Western efforts to stop Russian aggression and help its hard-pressed neighbors are often insufficient in those neighbors’ eyes, and perhaps justly so. Yet these efforts do exist, and are coming as a coherent policy, which gets political boost with each new aggressive Russian move. This reality makes it much riskier and more complicated for Moscow to conduct foreign aggression, than it was for the Soviet Russia in 1918-1921. Steam Mechanics Last, but emphatically not least, there is the difference between the life expectancy of the Kremlin regimes now and a century ago. The Bolsheviks were a classical totalitarianism - a system that works hard to control not only its subjects’ actions, but also their genuine thoughts. It is also mostly effective in ruthless destruction of those individuals whose minds it cannot digest. These features make it quite resilient, and extremely difficult to overthrow through internal resistance alone. Totalitarian regimes either are destroyed through external military defeat, or slowly wither over many decades before falling or transforming. Due to the nature of the political regime established by the Bolsheviks, it was unrealistic to expect their quick fall. Putin’s Russia is no totalitarianism. But nor is it a democracy. The latter type of political regime has a resilience of its own, because when people really hate their government in a democracy, they expect an opportunity to change it through elections, and thus feel no necessity to rebel, with the country remaining stable as a result. Russia is authoritarian, and does not hold real elections anymore. Consequently, the mechanism that helps democratic states remain stable does not exist there. The only source of popular legitimacy for the ruling regime is its success – geostrategic prowess and economic benefits for the population. Once that success dwindles, the steam of discontent begins to build up, without the discharge of democratic elections. History, including very recent one, has numerous examples of how this kind of story ultimately ends. **** We – Russia’s neighbors targeted by its expansionism – are in grave danger, there is no question about that. Complacency on our part, or on the part of our partners, would be a grave mistake. Yet our chance to win, or at least survive the struggle is realistic this time. We have no influence on the processes within Russia that can, at some point, result in the end of its offensive against the neighbors’ sovereignty; but we do have control over our own capability to resist this offensive until the time when Moscow is no longer capable of keeping it up. We need to ‘dig in’, incessantly pushing back the fifth columns in our countries that Russia keeps bolstering, improving our military capabilities, and developing productive partnership with both our Western partners and each other. Then we can prevail this time around. It may not be easy, but it is very much doable. Thu, 15 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT “My World” Quiz in Tserovani http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/718 On June 14, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) conducted a quiz for the students of Tserovani public school #3 under the framework of the project "My World". Up to 30 students participated in the quiz. Aside to the publication of the quarterly journal "My World", distributed among the IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia residing and studying in Tserovani, Zugdidi and other areas, the project also involves conducting quizzes based on the information and articles published within the magazine. Students with the best results will be rewarded with various prizes. Since April 2013, the Rondeli Foundation has been implementing the project "My World", funded by the US Embassy in Georgia. The overall objective of the project is to produce Georgian-language youth magazine – "My World". The magazine offers reading material for high school students and covers a variety of subjects and sectors. The articles published in the magazine touch upon politics, economics, literature, science, the arts, interesting news and events, and influential persons for the country or humanity. "My World" is issued on a quarterly basis, and each issue includes nine sections, as well as crossword puzzles, with questions regarding the material covered in the preceding issue. Articles are drafted specifically for this magazine, and the circulation is 2,000 copies. Wed, 14 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT “My World” Quiz in Guria and Mountaneous Adjara http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/717 On June 8-9, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) conducted the series of quizzes for the students of public schools in Zoti and Khulo with the support of the resource centers of Chokhatauri and Khulo Municipalities. Around 70 students participated in the quizzes. Aside to the publication of the quarterly journal "My World", distributed among the IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia residing and studying in Tserovani, Zugdidi and other areas, the project also involves conducting quizzes based on the information and articles published within the magazine. Students with the best results will be rewarded with various prizes. Since April 2013, the Rondeli Foundation has been implementing the project "My World", funded by the US Embassy in Georgia. The overall objective of the project is to produce Georgian-language youth magazine – "My World". The magazine offers reading material for high school students and covers a variety of subjects and sectors. The articles published in the magazine touch upon politics, economics, literature, science, the arts, interesting news and events, and influential persons for the country or humanity. "My World" is issued on a quarterly basis, and each issue includes nine sections, as well as crossword puzzles, with questions regarding the material covered in the preceding issue. Articles are drafted specifically for this magazine, and the circulation is 2,000 copies. Fri, 9 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT "My World" Quiz in Zugdidi http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/716 On June 6, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) conducted a quiz for students of Abkhazian public schools in Zugdidi under the framework of the project "My World". Around 50 students participated in the quiz. Aside to the publication of the quarterly journal "My World", distributed among the IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia residing and studying in Tserovani, Zugdidi and other areas, the project also involves conducting quizzes based on the information and articles published within the magazine. Students with the best results will be rewarded with various prizes. Since April 2013, the Rondeli Foundation has been implementing the project "My World", funded by the US Embassy in Georgia. The overall objective of the project is to produce Georgian-language youth magazine – "My World". The magazine offers reading material for high school students and covers a variety of subjects and sectors. The articles published in the magazine touch upon politics, economics, literature, science, the arts, interesting news and events, and influential persons for the country or humanity. "My World" is issued on a quarterly basis, and each issue includes nine sections, as well as crossword puzzles, with questions regarding the material covered in the preceding issue. Articles are drafted specifically for this magazine, and the circulation is 2,000 copies. Tue, 6 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT International Conference “Azerbaijan – Georgia-Turkey Trilateral relations: Vision for the future” http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/715 On June 5, 2017, the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SAM) in cooperation of the Center for Strategic Research of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Turkey (SAM) and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) organized an international conference entitled "Azerbaijan – Georgia-Turkey Trilateral relations: Vision for the Future" in Baku, Azerbaijan. Novruz Mammadov, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan for Foreign Policy Issues delivered a welcoming speech. The opening remarks were made by Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation, Dr. Mesut Ozcan, Chairman of the Center for Strategic Research of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey and Dr. Farhad Mammadov, the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In the first session "Security Challenges for the Trilateral Relations" Amb. Giorgi Badridze, the Senior Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation delivered a speech on geopolitics of trilateral cooperation. During the second session "Economic and Energy Aspects of the Trilateral Relations", Kakha Gogolashvili discussed EU-Georgia Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area: impact on trilateral economic cooperation, while at the same panel, Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation made a speech on the perspectives for trilateral cooperation in regards of transport, trade and energy aspects. Mon, 5 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Panel Discussion “Securing Resilience of Georgia: Defense and Cyber Security” http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/714 On June 3, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) organized a panel discussion "Securing Resilience of Georgia: Defense and Cyber Security" moderated by Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation. The speakers of the event included Harry Lahtein, Staff Officer, Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, Ekke Nomm, Director, Estonian School of Diplomacy and David Chilashvili, First Deputy Director, Cyber Security Bureau MoD of Georgia. Harry Lahtein discussed Estonia’s defense challenges in 21st century by explaining Estonia’s Defense Force build up, its history and rebirth, how EDF is functioning, how the country plans to act against the hybrid threats, especially the cyber threats while, David Chilashvili elaborated on the threats Georgia faces in this respect currently. The discussion also touched upon Georgia’s international cooperation in cyber security area, in particular with the Estonian government. The event was attended by the representatives of government, expert community and media, as well as students. The presentation was followed by an engaging Q&A mode. Watch the video about the disxussion. Sat, 3 Jun 2017 0:00:00 GMT Graduation Ceremony of the Project “Policy Development and Decision Making Training” http://cbgl.gfsis.org/events/view/713 On May 30, 2017 the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation) hosted a graduation ceremony of the project "Policy Development and Decision Making Training" and public debates of policy documents prepared by the program participants. The project "Policy Development and Decision Making Training" was a short-term training course that was mainly aimed for Civil Service Bureau (CSB) staff, though the audience also included the representatives from other governmental institutions. The primary objective of the training was to contribute to capacity building of GoG staff in modern policy analysis, policy planning as well as decision making techniques. The curriculum of the proposed program consisted of sessions, dedicated to the subject-specific instruction modules which would be useful for policy development and decision making processes. In addition to the training, participants were provided mentorship/coaching to develop policy documents addressing real-life policy issues as identified by participants within their respective areas of professional activity. Working on policy papers provided the fellows with an opportunity to apply skills and knowledge acquired within the proposed program. At the end of the event, the participants were handed over the certificates. The project was implemented by the Rondeli Foundation with the financial support of the USAID/Georgia Human and Institutional Capacity Development 2020 Activity (HICD 2020). Tue, 30 May 2017 0:00:00 GMT