Thursday, 27 November 2008

Report - International Crisis Group: 'Georgia: The Risks of Winter'


Georgia: The Risks of Winter

Tbilisi/Brussels, 26 November 2008: A failed war and a worsening economy present severe challenges to state authority in Georgia and make the need for serious reforms ever more urgent.

Georgia: The Risks of Winter,* the latest update briefing from the International Crisis Group, argues that although President Mikhail Saakashvili’s position is secure for the moment, his administration will be severely tested politically and economically in the winter and spring ahead. The opposition is asking pointed questions about whether the August war with Russia, and the ensuing economic crisis, could have been avoided. The global economic crisis and flight of foreign investment are likely to increase social discontent, but it remains unclear who will mobilise these grievances.

“President Saakashvili promised a wave of reforms in September”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “But if they aren’t completed and expanded, he is likely to lose international goodwill and some of the $5.4 billion of aid promised at the donors conference”.

Politics and the economy are closely linked in post-war Georgia, and Tbilisi must restore stability to encourage foreign investment and development. The government should implement more effective social assistance, build a truly independent judiciary, eliminate high-level corruption, prevent the abuse of property rights, increase freedom for the broadcast media, make vital changes to the electoral code, and transfer some presidential powers to the legislature and government. President Saakashvili has recently acknowledged the need for deeper and faster reforms, but so far these have been mainly restricted to the judiciary and media.

Meanwhile, the situation in and around South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains tense, with violent incidents and forced displacement continuing. Russia, which has not returned to its pre-7 August positions and is refusing access to monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in South Ossetia, has not fully implemented its commitments laid down in the ceasefire agreements negotiated by Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev. In areas under its control, it has not done enough to create conditions to allow for the return of displaced persons and to prevent further displacement.

“Ultimately Russia and the EU need to work closer together to ensure security and the return of displaced persons”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “The talks that have begun in Geneva should be used to address these issues, but EU member states need to remain unified if they want to persuade Moscow to cooperate with a real international monitoring mechanism for the conflict zones”.

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