European Union: Still a Viable Project


For the last 600 years or so, Georgia has been subject to constant external pressure through invasions and deliberate policies of dividing the state from the inside. Throughout this period, little chance has existed of Georgia being able to improve its geopolitical position in the region as the neighboring countries were simply too large and powerful. This largely conditioned the Georgian way of policy-making: balancing one big power against another.

Over the last two centuries, Russia has been the dominant force for Georgia and though it is common to talk about how impossible it is that Moscow would actually leave the South Caucasus, there are nevertheless some interesting trends pointing to developments that Russia might be finally outstripped by the West in the crucial former Soviet space.

The Geographic Explanation

The battle between Europe and Russia is a perennial one, largely conditioned by geography. The European continent by its nature represents a peninsula of Eurasia, while Russia is on the edge of Europe. Peace between them has been a fleeting phenomenon as each tried to dominate/influence the other.

Russia’s rise to power was basically a result of European internal fighting. There were times when Europe was unified, and Russia was threatened; yet the creation of the European empire (a truly unified one) which would challenge Russia in the long-run was a daunting task.

Building a European empire had at least three phases. First, military victories were essential, but these would not provide a lasting foundation. Napoleon and Hitler were good examples. A ruler needed a centralized administration and co-optation of local elites of large invaded states. A ruler, even those like Napoleon and Hitler, needed several decades at best to achieve this: a virtually impossible task. The problem with Europe was also that the continent was full of ambitious, technologically and militarily advanced states very much unwilling to abandon their freedom.

Even when a conquest of Europe was achieved (as in the case of Napoleon and Hitler), the continent then faced its two “enemies on the periphery,” Great Britain and Russia. Britain was willing to keep the balance of power among the European states, Russia – control over Eastern Europe. This simple geography in fact explains why throughout the centuries a united Europe could not become a lasting project and peace with Russia is an unachievable goal.

The Modern European Phenomenon

However, geopolitical developments since the break-up of the Soviet Union show that a relatively unified Europe is a plausible project. The modern united Europe is a grave challenge to Russia as the battle between the two is laid in the economic sphere on which then are based political affiliations of the elites of the post-Soviet space. Unlike in past centuries, modern Europe - the European Union - is in fact a powerful economic and political machine based not on coercion, but on state and elite cooptation.

Never before has Europe posed such a fundamental challenge to Russia. Neither Napoloen nor Hitler worked towards the fundamental weakening of Russia, as military conquest of Russia was impossible at the time. On the contrary, fundamental weakening of Russia is only possible through the purposeful economic dominance of the territories around the Russian heartland (modern western part of the Russian federation).

And that is, in fact, what is happening nowadays. Russia is losing fundamental competition, economic prevalence, with Europe. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states are good examples how Russian influence has retracted deep in Eurasia. What is even more interesting is the fact that this process, at least for the near future, will go unabated.

Is Georgia in the midst of something fundamentally transformative happening in its neighborhood? Will Russia’s weakening allow Tbilisi to improve its flawed geopolitical situation (return of lost territories)? There are plenty of indications to support this scenario. One might imagine our policy-makers pondering these long-lasting geopolitical trends to have Georgia better prepared for a number of oncoming changes.

Emil Avdaliani

02 April 2018 19:07