Staunton, November 16 – Demonstrations in Tbilisi and Kyiv on November 15 are the latest and most public indication of a development that not only challenges Vladimir Putin’s seizure of territory in Georgia and Ukraine but also calls into question Russia’s earlier occupation of other non-Russian lands.
Moscow has always tried to deal with its opponents one by one, and consequently, while holding demonstrations in two capitals on the same day and on the same subject may seem a coincidence to many, the Russian authorities are likely to view this as a concerted action and one that threatens them more than any individual challenge.
In Kyiv, some 300 people assembled in Mihalovsky square with Ukrainian and Georgian flags to protest against the Russian occupation of parts of those two countries. Oleg Saakayan, one of the organizers, said that “practically all neighbors of the Russian Federation” are at risk “of being annexed, seized, and occupied.”
Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told the crowd that the Maidan represented a breakthrough to a new Ukraine and a new world because “precisely in Ukraine were buried the hopes of Russia to again become an empire.” Now, Ukrainians are joining others to protest the Moscow threat.
A much larger group of people, estimated by Reuters to be in the tens of thousands, assembled in Tbilisi to protest against Russia’s continuing occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as to show solidarity with Ukraine over Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
Among the Georgian demonstrators were some who carried Ukrainian and also Crimean Tatar flags.
Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea are recognized to one degree or another by the international community as Russian-occupied or at least Russian-controlled territories, but there are many parts of the Russian Federation which their residents or co-ethnic groups abroad view as occupied as well.
Among these regions within the current borders of the Russian Federation is Karelia, where opponents of its occupation have now organized a website. But the actions of the Georgians and Ukrainians in opposition to Putin’s policy of aggression and occupation almost certainly will lead more such groups to emerge.
That in and of itself will be a problem for Moscow, but behind it is something much more threatening. In Soviet times, various national groups opposed communist occupation, but now they are opposing Russian occupation. That deepens the divide between Russians and other nations, thus raising the stakes in all such conflicts by limiting the possibility of inter-ethnic agreement.