On Feb. 22, as Ukraine politicians voted to remove their Kremlin-friendly president, a roaring crowd in another nation took on their Russian foe. The Georgian rugby team defeated the Russian Bears, 36-10, before a near sold-out crowd in their home stadium. During the lap of honor, the Georgian players held up a banner: “Sokhumi and Tskhinvali = Georgia.” It referred to the capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which like Transnistria in Moldova and potentially Crimea in Ukraine, are breakaway regions now under de facto Russian control.
Russia has long tried to intimidate Georgia and Moldova out of their westward shift; Moldova is currently bleeding from a Kremlin boycott of its wine, and Georgia is still nursing the wounds of its 2008 war. But watching Russian troops move into Ukraine has only steeled the resolve of these two small nations to join Europe as quickly as possible. It has also made Western leaders more committed to making that happen.
The Georgians and Moldovans remain committed to a landmark association and free trade agreement with the European Union, a step towards eventual membership, which Ukraine’s president bowed out off in November under Russian pressure, sparking three months of protest and ultimately, his ouster last week. National papers in Georgia and Moldova have touted each pledge of support for the Ukraine by Western heads of state, while eagerly documenting their own leaders’ respective meetings with American officials.
As Georgia and Moldova watch their much mightier big brother dare to shake off the mantle of Moscow, here is a sampling of responses out of the two countries:
"The first lesson is that once you have set a goal, you have to follow. Ukraine's decision not to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius was a decision that changed everything. We need to be more determined and motivated to promote reforms. Any deviation makes you vulnerable.”
Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. on Monday. Moldova, Europe's poorest country, has faced particularly intense pressure from Russia, including a boycott on its wine and spirit exports, repressive measures towards migrant workers, who earn money in Russia to send back home, and a threat to cut off its gas.
“We expect the agreement to be signed in the next few months as a master plan for the Europeanization of our country… It is obvious that unless the European Union gives a clear promise to the successful nations of the Eastern Partnership, this crisis, similar to the Ukraine, will happen again and again."
At a speech to the Atlantic Council on Feb. 25, his first ever public address in the U.S., Georgia Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili proudly touted the democratic reforms his country has undergone in recent years, such as securing a peaceful transition of power, minority rights and a free press. He also emphasized Georgia's role in Afghanistan and urged -- in possibly his strongest terms yet -- Georgia's quick integration into the EU and NATO.
"What does he want here? Chaos. He has good chances here this time to really chop up Ukraine… If Ukraine's a success, a smooth transition, a nice government, doing nice reforms — for Putin, it's the end of him.”
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who lost a slice of his country in 2008 for taking Russia head-on, gave the The Wall Street Journal his uncensored assesment of Putin. Saakashvili attended university in Kiev and has been in the Ukraine to advise leaders on building up their government and withstanding Russia's encroachment.
"In 1939, Hitler obtained by blackmail the West a piece of Czechoslovakia. The situation is similar with Russia now, especially after what happened in Georgia.” (Editor’s note: This is a translation.)
Oazu Nantoi, a former member of the Moldovan Parliament, told Moldovan TV network UNIMEDIA that Putin’s strategy is comparable to that of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin's, comparing it specifically to the way Britain and France permitted Hitler's annexation of part of Czechoslovakia, on the condition that he would ensure the security of its remaining borders. Many analysts in Georgia and Moldova, given their own tangles with Russia, are extremely cynical about Putin’s end game.
“It exactly follows the pattern in which Russia launched its aggression in Georgia, which had disastrous consequences for the country – ending in the occupation of its territories, and the international community still remains unable to bring Russia to comply with its obligation to withdraw troops from Georgia…”
In a statement Saturday, the Georgian Foreign Ministry called out the international community for ignoring the ways Russia has violated its France-brokered truce with Georgia after the 2008 war.
“It is a fact that in Moldova we have a considerable community of fellow Ukrainian and Russian nationals. At the same time, we must keep in mind that the Transnistrian ‘frozen conflict’ will be resolved peacefully and with all respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.”
The Moldovan Democratic Party expressed a renewed determination in its statement to resolve the situation of its own breakaway state that is under de facto Russian control. The Democratic Party, along with three other liberal, pro-Western parties, managed to oust one of Europe's last communist governments in 2009. The Democrat Party added that Moldova should prepare for a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the region.
“In the case this spreads throughout Europe, it will lead to untold things. We are now tied to Ukraine… All normal men should support Ukraine. Health is now hard for me, otherwise I would go ... to express our support for the young people.”
Vakhtang Kikabidze, a beloved Georgian and Soviet singer and actor, was clear about his loyalties in the Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra on Sunday. Kikabidze was honored in December of last year as a “People’s Artist of Ukraine” by the now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych. Russia also honored him with an Order of Friendship in 2008, but he rejected it, citing the country's actions in Georgia.