USAID’s Attempts to Challenge Russia With $20 Million Grant to Georgia Will Achieve Little
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to allocate millions of dollars to Tbilisi again, this time for the deep integration of ethnic and religious minorities into mainstream Georgian society. According to USAID’s announcement, the new $20 million grant is about supporting the integration of ethnic and religious minorities into the social, political and economic life of the Georgian state. USAID says it is necessary for the development of diversity and, at the same time, for the social cohesion that is at the heart of democracy. It also aims at strengthening Georgia’s territorial integrity, increasing the participation of minorities in the political process and strengthening their socio-economic ties with the state.
USAID’s grant to Georgia appears to be a counterweight to Russia. According to the grant’s description, Moscow is exploiting dissatisfaction and division in Georgia, especially given the local population’s focus on “the attractive educational and economic opportunities that are increasingly coming from Russia.”
It should be noted that there are many ethnic minorities in Georgia, including Abkhazians, Armenians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Kists, Ossetians, Russians, Ukrainians and Yazidis. Minority problems in Georgia have been very acute since at least the 1980s when the Soviet Union began its slow collapse and when nationalism in the Caucasus rose. Wars in the 1990’s, that led to the de facto secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, have only further complicated these problems and created frozen conflicts, with ethnic tensions still remaining.
Therefore, USAID presents itself as ready to sponsor the solution to these problems, despite many of them being hundreds of years old.
A major issue is that USAID interferes in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretext of humanitarian missions. For Georgia, with its internal contradictions and divisions, allowing the US to have influence in the delicate balance of the Caucasus could unravel another conflict, just as they did by emboldening and encouraging Georgia to provoke war with Russia in 2008.
The current situation is worsened by the trial of Mikheil Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013 and spearheaded the failed 2008 war against South Ossetia on the back of US encouragement, left the country shortly after the 2013 presidential election and was convicted in absentia in 2018 for abusing power, embezzlement and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition MP.
The trial has become a fiasco as Saakashvili is now in his seventh week of a hunger strike to protest against his arrest but could not be present in the courtroom on Monday due to his poor state of heath. The trial is adjourned until December 2 after Saakashvili’s lawyers again demanded his presence in the courtroom. Several MPs announced on November 15 that they also started a hunger strike to support the former president.
Despite the current social division in Georgia, which is along political and not ethnic or religious lines, USAID recently announced that more than $5 million had been allocated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the country as vaccination rates are low and daily cases are close to breaking records set in the summer. None-the-less, USAID also announced $23 million was planned to increase public administration efficiency and to fight corruption.
It should also be noted that a few years ago, USAID came up with the concept of and wrote a report on “Countering Malign Kremlin Influence” in post-Soviet territory. The report envisages strengthening the rule of law and democracy on the Western liberal model, combating manipulation of information and vulnerabilities in the energy sector, and raising economic security.
In this way, it is undeniable that USAID’s allocation of the new $20 million grant to Georgia is with the aim of challenging Russia in its traditional sphere of influence in the Caucasus. However, offering this money will do little to reverse the many ethnic tensions that exist in the country. It is recalled that Azerbaijanis and Armenians are the largest minority groups in Georgia but their home countries were at war only last year. It is unlikely that $20 million will do much to alleviate tensions between these two ethnic groups, or reconcile the Ossetians and Abkhazians with Tbilisi, or the many other internal contradictions in Georgia. Despite the grant being unlikely to achieve anything of note, it does demonstrate the US’ intentions to continue pushing Georgia towards Western liberalism and away from Moscow, despite the reality of the country being wedged between powerful regional countries like Russia, Turkey and even nearby Iran.
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