Máté György Vigóczki: Russia is actively obstructing Georgia’s integration into the EU

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NewCaucasus.com delved into discussions regarding Georgia’s relationship with the EU, the state of affairs in the South Caucasus, the Kremlin’s influence on the region, and Russia’s conflict with Ukraine with political scientist and researcher of the post-Soviet space, Máté György Vigóczki (Hungary).

– Georgia’s emergence as a candidate for EU membership raises questions about its potential impact on the broader South Caucasus region. Could this development spur Armenia and Azerbaijan to forge closer ties with the EU?

– I doubt that EU integration will succeed in the Caucasus. The EU may be squeezed out of the Caucasus. Turkish, Russian, Iranian influence will be strong. Democratic traditions and negotiation methods don’t seem to be the future here, as Azerbaijan’s success demonstrates. From what I see, Baku will likely pursue an independent, non-aligned status. As for Armenia, it’s unlikely to break free from Russian influence unless there’s a change in Kremlin leadership.

– How realistic is Russia’s opposition to Georgia’s accession to the EU? What risks and threats does this opposition pose?

– The EU operates as an external player in the region, while Russia claims it has no involvement here. Russia actively impedes integration with the EU, leveraging entities like Abkhazia and South Ossetia to exert control. I’m curious about the level of support Baku and Ankara would offer Tbilisi in countering Russia. However, it seems that even Azerbaijan has an interest in limiting the EU’s influence.

– Do you believe that the Russian Federation’s influence on the South Caucasus countries has diminished as a result of the conflict in Ukraine?

– The influence of the EU in the region is indeed limited, although not entirely eliminated. Georgia shares a border with Russia, affording Moscow the ability to safeguard its allies, unlike in Nagorno-Karabakh. Regarding the CSTO, I believe it lacks the capability to fulfill its intended role, and Moscow seeks to conceal this reality. If it were demonstrated that the CSTO is ineffective or that Russia cannot maintain control over Armenia, significant political ramifications would ensue in Russia. Hence, the Kremlin is actively working to prevent such revelations.

– Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been an increase in tourists from the Russian Federation traveling to Georgia and Armenia. This influx has been associated with economic growth in these countries. Is this trend to be considered a positive development?

– There isn’t much I can add to this issue. With appropriate integration measures, the arrival of these individuals can potentially benefit the economy’s development. The significant question revolves around how many of them intend to return home in a post-Putin era, or how many have already done so.

– The Georgian authorities have opted not to participate in anti-Russian sanctions and have consented to the reinstatement of direct flights with the Russian Federation, citing this policy as “pragmatism.” How aligned do you believe this stance is with the EU integration policy declared by official Tbilisi? Is there concern within the EU regarding this approach?

– Many individuals are attempting to profit from sanctions, which resembles a typical prisoner’s dilemma. In the long run, this poses a threat to EU security and policy coherence. While it may not directly jeopardize Georgia’s EU integration, this perception is held by many within the EU. However, delving into the specifics of this matter is beyond my area of expertise.

Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan has declared his intentions to draw closer to the EU. How feasible is this move, considering Armenia’s membership in the CSTO and the Customs Union, as well as the presence of Russian bases on its territory?

– There are still numerous avenues for cooperation, including financial support, visa regimes, scholarships, and more. However, Moscow is unlikely to release its grip on Yerevan as long as the current political regime remains in power in Russia. If it cannot maintain control through traditional means such as economic and military influence, it may resort to non-traditional methods, possibly including hybrid tactics.

How do you perceive the outcomes of the war in Ukraine? Do you have any personal forecasts?

– The conflict is likely to remain frozen along the current front line. I don’t foresee Ukrainian society officially relinquishing any territory. However, from the Russian perspective, this scenario seems more plausible, especially if there’s a regime change aimed at reestablishing relations with the West. The Russian political elite has historically followed a pattern of distancing themselves, either partially or entirely, from previous leadership and initiating entirely new endeavors. Based on this historical trend, I see a potential for a settlement from the Russian side in the future.

Both Kiev and Moscow are likely to maintain their positions for another 1-2 years, but eventually, the necessity to end the fighting will compel them to agree to a freeze. Western support will play a crucial role.

– If Russia emerges victorious, what implications will this hold for the post-Soviet countries? Conversely, if Ukraine wins, what outcomes should we anticipate in such a scenario?

– I don’t anticipate a decisive victory that would significantly alter the current regional dynamics. Russia may experience setbacks and face increasing influence from non-Western countries, yet it will maintain its military and economic dominance for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the opposition to China’s influence in Central Asia remains a significant factor to consider. While Russia’s capabilities may dwindle, its determination to preserve influence will persist, leading Moscow to employ unconventional methods to maintain relevance.

A Ukrainian victory, however, would likely trigger a domestic political crisis in Russia with unpredictable consequences. The Kremlin is keen to avoid such a scenario at all costs, as it would further diminish Russian influence in the post-Soviet space.

Zviad Mchedlishvili, for newcaucasus.com

Máté György Vigóczki, courtesy photo