Alain Deletroz, Vice President of International Crisis Group, spoke to DF Watch about the situation in Georgia and the rest of the South Caucasus.

TBILISI, DFWatch – Brussels is mainly concentrating on what happens with Georgian reforms and internal politics. On Abakhazia and South-Ossetia, everybody thinks that for as long as Russia will recognize these two territories as independent states, there is not much to be done on the diplomatic side, says Alain Deletroz, Vice President of International Crisis Group.

The upcoming election is very important to us. Some people envisage some escalation of the situation. What can you say about the electoral process here in Georgia?

I can’t say much because we haven’t analyzed it yet. The only thing I can say is that whenever you have an electoral process it brings up the tension in the country. I think it is normal whenever you have presidential elections. The main political parties have to take positions on a variety of issues, and sometimes they take positions, which go over or a bit further than the position they will actually represent once they are in government. So I think in Georgia you are already feeling this pressure boiling.

How do you asses from the European perspective this process of Georgian relationship with the EU, the eastern partnership process, neighborhood policy, how do you asses Georgia’s progress in this field?

I think if you take the South Caucasus, Georgia is certainly the country that has made the biggest progress. It is seen so in Brussels and if the election process goes well it will bring forth also this positive image of Georgia in Brussels. In the South Caucasus it is certainly the most advanced country.

You’re Vice President of the International Crisis Group and maybe familiar with Georgia’s internal situation with Georgian breakaway republics and the policy of the central government towards the occupied territories and the policy of Europe towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What are you views on this?

I’ll be a bit tough in answering that question, but if you look at what is happening in the world right now, especially for Europe, the eurozone crisis, the elections in Egypt, with Libya, with Syria, with Tunisia, the South Caucasus is certainly not on the top of European prioirities. I think the Europeans want to engage with Georgia. But the message Europe brought to the Georgian government after the war of 2008 was: a) we are pretty angry as nobody needed this war, and b) they were advising the Georgian government to focus on internal reforms and development. And I think now Brussels is mainly concentrating its look on what happens with Georgian reforms and internal politics. On Abakhazia and South-Ossetia, everybody thinks that for as long as Russia will recognize these two territories as independent states, there is not much to be done on the diplomatic side. In Europe nobody agrees with this situation and all reaffirm their commitment for Georgia’s territorial integrity, but no country is ready now to put any political and diplomatic strength into moving this issue onto the agenda as they see no possibility for a positive outcome. With the Eurozone crisis, trying to keep a working relationship with Russia remains a priority for all, even without warmth or friendship. Sorry for this pragmatic views on what I feel as being todays’ priorities in Brussels.

What about this escalation around Karabakh and Armenia – Azeri border. Is there any threat?

This is probably the most serious danger for the region indeed. You see the number of incidents growing not only on the ceasefire line, but also, and this is a new phenomenon, on the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You had also this year civilians being killed over the line, which is not the first time since 1993, but it has not happened very often that civilians are killed over the line, right? Azerbaijan is putting a lot of money into its defense, obliging Armenia to a huge budgetary effort for its military whil on the diplomatic side, through the Minsk Group, nothing is advancing. So the conflict around Karabakh is probably the most dangerous escalation in the South Cacuasus. The Minsk Group has a hard time reinjecting some diplomatic and political content into its pattern of of negotiations.

Are you thinking over some open hostilities, is it visible in South Caucasus I mean this Armenia Azeri conflict or engagement of some big players, for example Russia, or Iran, Turkey into this conflict?

Well I hope not, but of course the messages are sent around the place that great powers are looking very carefully at what is going on and very clearly, in case of an armed conflict, there will be an alignment. So I think this is something that nobody wants to see happening. In the South of Armenia and Azerbaijan you have Iran, and around Iran you have this big question of its nuclear program. A bit further you have Syria, not to even mention Afghanistan. This probably the region of the world where the highest amount of tension, and I think the great powers would have no interest in allowing Baku and Yerevan to add tension. At the International Crisis Group we have urged all parties to take very seriously the level of tension that has grown now between Azerbaijan and Armenia and to push in a much more forceful way the diplomatic agenda to resolve this conflict.

Couple weeks ago there was a NATO summit in Chicago. Many people in Georgia had expected some good news. I mean some open signals for acceptance of Georgia in NATO; not acceptance, but some signals. After the 2008 war there was a quite negative attitude in Europe towards Georgia’s ascention to NATO. Has something changed since the war?

As I said before, what has changed is that NATO member states have seen a lot of efforts put into the internal situation in Georgia, into the reforms, into the fight against corruption and all this is seen as very positive. Now with NATO, we have to be realistic. NATO is a military alliance in which each country accepts to march in to defend a member that would be attacked. So for as long as Georgia has two unresolved conflicts, I can guarantee you that strong NATO members like Germany and France will be happy to make declarations like they did in Chicago, that the doors of NATO remain open for Georgia, but I don’t think that they will allow for a full Georgian membership of the alliance for as long as these two conflicts are not resolved. It would mean that if a new war starts, and if the pattern of the war is the same as in 2008, that NATO would have to fight Russia, and I don’t believe there is any member state of NATO ready to sign off on that.

For the last question we want to turn to the internal situation in Georgia. I mentioned that there is a strained situation between the opposition and the government and some people expect even using open force during the elections or before the elections. Will the European countries or EU, European powers somehow force the government not to use force, pressure the government for more democratic processes?

For the EU this is pretty clear. The European agenda with Georgia lies strongly in the strengthening of its democratic process. Europe is not taking easily all those games aiming at preventing some contenders to run, or any attempt to change the constitution to favour one candidate over otheres. The democratic situation in Georgia is one of its best assets in Europe and the US. It would be stupid to destroy these achievements during the upcoming presidential campaing. And I am pretty sure that the messages from Brussels are crystal clear on that.