In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, former Georgian Prime Minister and representative to NATO Ambassador Grigol Mgaloblishvili warns that neither the invasion of Georgia in 2008, nor the situation in Ukraine today, are isolated incidents and that Russia intends to cripple much of Eastern Europe to maintain it in a state of “constant chaos” that it can control the region.
Mgaloblishvili served as Georgian Prime Minister between November 2008 and February 2009, as tensions with Russia reached an all-time high. He had previously served as ambassador to Turkey and would, in 2009, be appointed a Permanent Representative for Georgia to NATO. These experiences gave him a unique perspective on Russia’s attitude towards its neighbors and the potential for unrest to spread fueled by tensions with Russia.
“The main objective of Russia is to regain its sphere of influence over the post-Soviet states,” he said to Breitbart News Thursday afternoon, comparing the current situation in Ukraine’s breakaway regions to that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. The two events are not unrelated, he explained: “After violating international law, after invading and occupying territories of European nations and violating the basics principles and consensuses of the post-Cold War order, Moscow has not paid any political price.”
The lack of consequences for Russia, Mgaloblishvili explains, has “emboldened” the Russian government. “By instigating instability in Eastern Ukraine, they force the rest of the world to accept the annexation of Crimea as fait accompli. They are doing their best to create constant chaos and to make the newly elected Ukrainian leadership fail.”
Creating instability and contributing to the failure of democratic regimes in neighboring states hurts the Russian people, Mgaloblishvili noted, but benefits those in power. Instability “makes it easier to leverage the administration, to expand Putin’s influence.” Democracy, meanwhile, allows neighboring states to be more independent from the Kremlin, which is not in their best interest, he explained.
“If Ukraine succeeds and Ukrainian reforms are successful, then it may, in a positive sense, have a spillover effect in Russia, and I think that is what the Kremlin fears as well– that you have the same scenario back in Moscow, that democratic forces make changes in Russia,” Mgaloblishvili explained, noting that the economic rise of the Baltic states, for example, “brought more stability and prosperity to Russians as well,” but in doing so, threatened the oligarchy. “It is not in their interest to have democratic or even predictable or stable neighbors,” he concluded.
There is optimism to be found embedded in that observation. Much Western media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine and its potential to spill over emphasizes the contagious nature of instability: if Russia can annex Crimea, it can keep moving west. Mgaloblishvili notes that the opposite is equally true. If post-Soviet states can create democratic institutions and build independent and strong economies, that desire for freedom and prosperity can spill over into Russia, as well. Independent and free states are not then mere inconveniences, but full threats to an undemocratic Russian elite.
“The Russian administration appears to oppose democratic forces both within and outside its borders, because the spread of democracy is one of the biggest to Putin and the Kremlin,” Mgaloblishvili noted, citing Russia’s NGO ratings in freedoms of expression and communication as among the lowest in the world.
In the case of Ukraine, he said, “anything that strengthens Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukrainian statehood and makes Ukraine more resilient to Russian pressure is unacceptable for them.”
“The warfare model that Russians successfully used in Georgia is now being used in much more sophisticated ways in Ukraine,” he explained. That model now consists of “soldiers with hidden faces, and no national insignia but clearly linked to the state interests of Russia.
This is done so that Moscow can deny a full-scale invasion while exerting force on an independent country. This model of warfare is likely to spread, he predicted, and figuring out where Putin will strike next is not difficult. “Putin spoke his mind very clearly after the annexation of Crimea; he described the Russian people as the most divided people of the world,” he explained. “if you see a demographic map of where Russian nationals are living outside of the Russian Federation you can see and detect where the next threat may lie.”
Russia uses statistics like the number of Russian passport-holders in other nations to identify Russian nationals in an area, Mgaloblishvili explained that the government has artificially inflated the number of Russian nationals in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by handing out more and more passports, in a process known as “passportization.” “They artificially created Russian citizens, distributing Russian passports to a number of our ethnic minorities in order to later justify their military aggression as “self-defense actions.”
Mgaloblishvili cited US leadership as one of the strongest forces that can combat Russian aggression. “US leadership and US efforts to build a consensus and a cohesive response with the West and Europe acting together,” he notes, are “extremely important”.
NATO will also be pivotal, he notes, but it faces new challenges–new types of warfare and the unpleasant realization that neither Ukraine nor Georgia were isolated incidents. “The threat will persist unless Russia faces consequences for their actions, a responsibility the global community must assume.”