Dr. Evelyn N. Farkas. Photo: screengrab from VoA interview
Dr. Evelyn N. Farkas, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia, spoke to Voice of America’s Ia Meurmishvili on Javelin weapons acquisition, Trump administration’s policy towards Georgia and the former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s political activities in Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department has recently approved a sale of Javelin weapons system to Georgia. What do you think about this decision - was it a timely and a good decision?
It is long overdue. I was recommending to three separate secretaries of defense from 2012 to 2015 that we go ahead and give Georgia an authorization to purchase the Javelin system. It was not approved overall by the Obama administration and it was an open question left for the Trump administration, and I am very happy with the decision they made. Of course, the next question will be how the Georgian government will pay for it. I do not know whether the American government, the fund that we have available to assist Georgia with its military acquisitions, has sufficient money to buy the necessary amount of weapons. But I would imagine, Georgia could at least start down the road and I would certainly urge the Georgian government to act quickly to use the money, to use the authority to get the Javelins.
For a long time, successive Georgian governments led by different political parties have argued for the need of these weapons. We understood in the Defense Department that it was a defensive measure to signal to the Russians that the price of any new invasion would be high, meaning that Russians in tanks would die. We made that argument when I was in government, and I made that argument outside of government. I also would very much like the Trump administration to make a similar affirmative decision with regard to Ukraine.
There is a skeptical viewpoint on the decision. Those who argue against it say that these weapons would only irritate Russia. What do you make of it?
Well, the Russians are always going to be irritated on some level with the Georgian government. So I think people should get a little tougher skin about irritating the Russians. And, let’s face it - what are they going to do besides feeling irritated? They are going to speak and that is probably it. The point is that it is a defensive system to deter the Russians from taking further military action. It is not an offensive system. It is not meant to change the military balance - we know that is impossible for Georgia. Although, if Georgia were to become a NATO member, then the situation would look different. But nevertheless, these weapons are very important in order to make sure that Georgia can defend itself.
This is a great news for Georgia. But these weapons aside, what do you think about the Trump administration’s overall policy towards Georgia?
I think it is a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy, which is a continuation of the George W. Bush administration’s policy, which is to say that we welcome Georgia as a partner, as a future ally, and we are working together with Georgia ever more closely to help it become a stronger democracy, a stronger economic power and to be able to defend its borders. So, I see it as a continuation. Despite what people might say about the Trump administration and President Trump’s relationship with Russians, the foreign policy of the United States has remained consistent and in this instance, with the decision to sell Javelins to Georgia it is actually a little bit stronger.
Former Georgian President and former Odessa Oovernor Mikheil Saakashvili, who is a stateless person at the moment, dominated the international headlines recently. What do you think about his role in Ukraine?
First, there is a lot of show, there is a lot of showmanship that makes me a little bit uncomfortable, because I prefer a more straightforward approach to governing and to helping one’s neighbors or one’s former state. So I do not like the way the former President Saakashvili and Governor Saakashvili had gone about trying to get what he wants, which is to reform Ukraine. I do not like the style that much and it is just a matter of my personal preference. Having said that, he does raise some important issues and there is a real constituency and a real platform, a real push behind what he is doing. He stands for getting rid of corruption and he does give voice to those who remain concerned that President Poroshenko is not acting swiftly enough, that he has not dismantled the old system of the oligarchy. Frankly speaking, in my post-government life I have talked to various companies, American corporations that were interested in Ukraine because it is a big country with a big market, and because they have great products, on the military side, agriculture, etc., but a lot of companies are staying away from Ukraine, including ones that I worked with, because of the corruption issue and that is bad news for Ukraine. In the big picture, Ukraine needs to have a real push against corruption, to really clean up the situation in the country and then also have a reputation that it has cleaned itself up. So I think Saakashvili can help, because he can put pressure on the government, which is what he is doing. The only thing is that it is a very fragile government and a fragile situation, and so I worry about the way that he operates through using the mob, which is not a very democratic or stable procedural way to approach the situation.
The way I understand your last comment is that Saakashvili is somewhat of a threat to Ukraine’s stability.
A little bit. If he is not careful, he could pose a threat to the stability of Ukraine and that is certainly not in the interest of Ukraine, Georgia, or anyone except for Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin cronies.
Do you think you see any elements of instability in Georgia, because of Saakashvili involvement in Ukraine?
No, I cannot say that I see a connection there. I am sure the Georgian people follow with interest the theatrics of it, but they also have their own theatrics internally. In Georgia, as you know, the political parties tend to fight using all means and methods. In a young democracy it can often get very political. The use of the media and the restrictions on the media is something that the U.S. government has been concerned about, and certainly we would like Georgia to continue with developing the free market, increasing transparency, access to political engagement.
So there is certainly enough on the agenda for Georgian people to worry about in Georgia. But I do think that the Georgian officials, those now in office, the President, the Prime Minister, etc., they do owe it to Ukraine to try to be as helpful as possible, because Georgia made the first moves, they have some more experience, and I think it is good for Georgia and Ukraine to be closely allied and working together. So the only thing that concerned me in the past was when I saw different parties inside Georgia, more likely to help Ukraine than others, which I think is unpatriotic. I think all political parties in Georgia should be helping Ukraine, the state and its people and whoever is in charge at the moment.
The material was prepared for Civil.ge by the Voice of America. In order to license this and other content free of charge, please contact Adam Gartner.