A wake-up call for Georgia, Ukraine – and the West
Bickering and divisiveness among democrats within former Soviet states could lead to authoritarian, anti-Western rule.
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The second lesson is that disunity and weakness carry risk at a time when both countries' futures hang in the balance. Blood-letting among democrats in Ukraine weakens their ability to resist Russian pressure on energy transport and Crimea's status. Similar acrimony in Georgia inhibits political conciliation and the development of a loyal and apolitical military.Skip to next paragraph
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Appeals are being issued, mainly to the United States, to call local leaders to the woodshed to force resolution of political impasses. Just last week, for example, Yushchenko met with G-7 ambassadors in Kiev (Kyiv) and urged their governments to help save democracy in Ukraine.
But this would not be effective. Politics in Ukraine and Georgia are complex and not well understood by foreigners. Besides this, and perhaps because of this, their counsel is rarely heeded.
In August 2008, Saakashvili ignored repeated warnings, even from the US president, to avoid military confrontation with Russia. In Ukraine, Orange Revolution leaders have turned a deaf ear to the counsel of Western countries and Ukrainian diasporas to seek accommodation and fight corruption.
The hard lesson for Georgia and Ukraine is that governments and citizens must summon courage and solve their own problems. Leaders should make reform their main agenda. If they can't or won't do this, they ought to step aside. A new generation of leaders – young enough never to have been schooled in Soviet ideology – may be better able to contain retrograde forces and carry the banner of reform. Ukraine and Georgia have promising candidates.
The US and Europe meanwhile, must do more to improve conditions for reform – and not disdain prospects for democratic change in troubled areas. The best tool is expanded assistance to foster the rule of law, honest elections, respect for human rights and minorities, and the fight against corruption. Advances in these areas should precede – and will enable – closer ties to the European Union and NATO, not the other way around.
Ukraine and Georgia must fashion their own futures and find leaders who can cooperate for democracy. Street demonstrations, economic crises, and Russian pressure should be a powerful wake-up call. Unless democrats unify, backward-looking forces could take hold – as has happened in Russia, to the detriment of US and European interests.
Denis Corboy is director of the Caucasus Policy Institute at Kings College London and was European Commission ambassador to Georgia. William Courtney was US ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia. Kenneth Yalowitz is director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and was US ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.