Georgia: Dancing with wolves to tune of visa free regime

Lasha Tughushi, "Liberal Academy Tbilisi" Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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Tbilisi considers the decision to incorporate military units of the unrecognized republic South Ossetia into the armed forces of the Russian Federation as a new threat of the Russian annexation of these occupied territories. An even clearer sign of this threat is thought to be the intention to rename the territories in the upcoming referendum

Domestic Policy: Russia incorporates the armed forces of South Ossetia

The President of Russia Vladimir Putin ordered to accept the proposal of the government and incorporate the armed forces of South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region) occupied by Russia into the structure of the Russia’s military. This agreement was developed in frames of the cooperation agreement between the Russian Federation and the unrecognized republic, signed in March, 2015. Thus, it is implied that the citizens of this republic will be accepted for a contract-based service in the Russian military. The corresponding order was published  on Tuesday, March 14, on the official Russian Internet portal for legal information.

The Russian Ministry of Defense was given an order to hold negotiations with South Ossetia, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs participating as well, and sign this agreement on behalf of Russia. After that the South Ossetia military will have a right for a contract-based service on Russian military bases.

The Alliance and Integration Treaty between Russia and the so-called South Ossetia consists of 15 articles. The document involves creating a single space for defense and security, annulling border control points between Russia and South Ossetia, as well as incorporating armed forces units and security units of South Ossetia into the structure of the Armed Forces of Russia.

Meanwhile, on April 9, in South Ossetia, a former region of Georgia, people will elect the President of South Ossetia, and also vote for the changes to the Constitution naming the unrecognized republic as “Republic of South Ossetia – State of Alania”, with both names being equally legitimate.

Official Tbilisi believes that the referendum is a step towards the annexation of the region.

Official Tbilisi, as well as the international community, takes South Ossetia as a part of Georgia, and believes the referendum is a step towards the annexation of the region followed by its incorporation into the Russian Federation.

In Tbilisi attention is paid to the fact that the voted name is similar to the name of a subject of the Russian Federation, North Ossetia. Therefore, it can be a sign of the Moscow intention to annex the breakaway region of Georgia.

Meanwhile, strong criticism  expressed by the political experts and politicians is accompanied with suggestions that, with the geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West due to Crimea’s annexation in the political background, it is highly unlikely that the Kremlin will make one more step and swallow yet another territory.

According to them, Russia will continue its policy of the so-called “creeping annexation”, waiting for a suitable moment.

Economy: Land for sale?

The question of the land ownership rights is amongst the most sensitive issues that initiated a heated discussion (3) in the State Constitutional Commission of Georgia in March. Radical political forces, as well as experts with patriotic rhetorics, are against private property land selling to foreigners. According to them, land selling to foreigners should be banned on the constitutional level.

This suggestion was met by heated tensions among liberals, who believe that the ban will lead to lower potential of the country’s land market. As for the economic freedom issues, the ruling political power represented by the Prime Minister always leaned towards liberals, however, the Georgian land issue touches the voters hearts, and this makes the process of the political decision making harder.

The cost of the agricultural lands drastically differs in various regions in Georgia. According to a survey conducted by “Resonance” newspaper, the most expensive land is in Guria, Samegrelo, and several villages famous for the wine making. One hectare of the land in these regions costs 815 thousand lari. The cheapest lands (almost for free) are in Racha-Lechkhumi.

Nevertheless, excluding these several regions, lands for agricultural use in Georgia do not have a price, and people do not express a lot of interest to own this land. In that respect, the most difficult situation is in Racha. Selling land is a big problem here, since nobody wants to settle down and lead economic activity in this region, in fact one of the most beautiful places in the country.

However, in the wine making regions, where the land cost is seemingly high, it is still significantly less than could be expected in the conditions of the market economy. The reason for this is that the government owns 90% of the land. As long as all lands for agricultural use do not become private property, there is not even a theoretical possibility that the price will go up.

Foreign Policy: New possibilities

Free travel, visa free regime, Europe – these are the words were heard all around Tbilisi. Visa free regime was met in Tbilisi with three days festivities. The roofs of all key buildings, average citizens’ balconies, small shops, car windows or backpacks of children heading to school proudly presented two flaunting flags: one being the national flag of Georgia, and another one, the flag Georgia was heading to, the flag of the European Union.

The Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated before the government meeting that on March, 28th, he will visit, together with students, the ancient capital of the European culture Athens, and then the political center of EuropeBrussels. According to the Prime Minister, special events should be held to celebrate the visa free regime.

In Georgia discussions of its further steps became more heated. Visa free travel to Europe started new discussions about the possibility of the free trade, complementing the geopolitical component of Georgia. According to the government, establishing of a free trade regime with India is in progress now. And finally, in May the agreement on free trade with Bejing will be signed. Similar negotiations with Washington are also being planned. The government of Georgia is quite optimistic in this respect, since there is positive dynamics in its relations with the USA.