Czar Vladimir's Illusions: NYT Op-Ed by Senior Statesman and Former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili

New York Times

Former President of Republic of Georgia and Senior Statesman at The Fletcher School, Mikheil Saakashvili

As the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, a close Russian ally in Ukraine is suppressing and shooting pro-democracy protesters.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the hour of triumph for autocrats and the retreat of democrats is at hand as the world gathers to celebrate the shining rule of Czar Vladimir.

But do the Sochi Olympics really prove that President Vladimir V. Putin’s model of oil-fueled authoritarianism is the only one that can bring happiness and prosperity to Russia and the region?

Though my country, Georgia, has almost no oil, it might hold the answer. For the last nine years, Georgia has been growing at a higher rate than Russia. Two years ago, I initiated unilateral visa-easing with Russia. Since then, more than one million Russians have come to visit. These predominantly urban middle-class visitors from a wealthier country came in part to admire Georgia’s much better services and infrastructure. Usually it’s the other way around: People from poorer countries go to the richer ones for that experience.

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