Starting today with Georgia, and followed by Ukraine and Lithuania, parliamentary elections in Europe’s east are revealing the tenuous nature of democracy and sovereignty in countries once entrapped by Soviet-era Moscow. Among the top priorities that Russian President Vladimir Putin set for his third presidential term is the reintegration of former Soviet republics – based on tighter economic links and culminating in a political and security pact centered around Russia. Moscow seeks to create a new Eurasian Union that will balance the European Union in the West and China in the East.
Economic linkages will supposedly create closer political and security ties, thus making it less likely that Russia’s neighbors can join alternative military and political alliances. This approach is mirrored by a more assertive policy toward vulnerable former satellite states in Central Asia and Central-Eastern Europe. The purpose is to undercut their opposition to Russia’s regional ambitions. Russian meddling in their domestic politics provides a valuable avenue of influence.
Georgia faces a major political test in its parliamentary elections today. The country’s development is under close scrutiny following an unfolding scandal over prison abuse amidst opposition charges of election campaign violations and other attacks on democracy by the ruling party. Government supporters maintain that opposition financier and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is engineering various provocations to undermine Georgia’s emerging democracy. According to them, Mr. Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, serves Kremlin interests by creating the Georgian Dream coalition – the main opposition in this election.