Levan Kakhishvili

Survival is often argued to be the major concern of small states’ international relations. Georgia is no exception – since it gainedindependence in the early 1990s, Georgia has had a turbulent history. It has experienced four military conflicts: two wars in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a civil war in Tbilisi during the early 1990s, and later a brief war with Russia in August 2008. Due to the fact that Russia acts as a patron of Georgia’s breakaway regions (following the 2008 August war, Moscow recognized their independence), the most important challenge for Georgia’s foreign and security policy during the quarter century of independence has always been finding an optimal way to decrease its vulnerability as opposed to the intimidating military prowess of Russia. In search of such an optimal way, Georgia has had four different political forces governing the country. Each of these four leaderships was associated with a single personality and was greatly influenced by them. Furthermore, each of these leaders has had their own view of how to ensure Georgia's national security.

In the early days of the 1990s when Zviad Gamsakhurdia headed the state as the first president, the outlook of Tbilisi was unique. Gamsakhurdia’s vision primarily focused on Georgia’s regional integration in the Caucasus. He had close relations with the North Caucasian autonomous republics in Russia, especially with the Chechen leader Jokhar Dudayev. Gamsakhurdia’s idea of a ‘common Caucasian house’ implied that all peoples of the Caucasus, north and south, should have peacefully coexisted with close ties among each other. However, Gamsakhurdia did not manage to implement his vision due to the coup organized by his opponents, after which he had to flee the country and went in exile to the North Caucasus. The coup was followed by chaos and more military conflicts with a high degree of uncertainty aboutwho headedthe state. 

However, eventually by the mid-1990s Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet Foreign Minister, managed to consolidate his power and stabilize the situation. During Shevardnadze’s rule, Georgia started as a devastated country with little potential forindependent foreign and security policies. The country hostedRussian military bases not only in the breakaway regions, but also in the territory under the control of the government. As Shevardnadze wrote later in his memoirs, during Georgia was then forced to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, in 1999, Tbilisi opted out of the CSTO and joined the Council of Europe, while remaining a member of the CIS until after the August 2008 war.

The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were more successful for Georgia. Tbilisi joined the Council of Europe in 1999, achieved a deal with Russia during the OSCE Istanbul summit in 1999 on the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia, signed an agreement on constructing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and for the first time officially prioritized relations “with those nations that share its values of democracy, respect for human rights, the market economy, and the free flow of ideas” and integration within “all of the major institutions of the European and Euro-Atlantic communities” over its relations with Russia, the CIS and CSTO. All these developments eventually led to Shevardnadze presenting an official application to the membership in NATO in 2002 just before the end of his leadership in 2003 as a result of the Rose Revolution led by Mikheil Saakashvili.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s trademark on Georgia’s foreign policy was to make Georgia seen and heard on the international arena. His government was so vocal about Georgia’s goal to joinNATO and the EU, that often Georgia’s pro-Western foreign policy is associated with Saakashvili, while instead, it originated during the latter period of Shevardnadze’s rule. On the other hand, it was indeed during Saakashvili’s leadership that Georgia was officially promised atthe Bucharest summit in April 2008 that Georgia would become a member of the alliance. This promise has been reaffirmed by every NATO summit since then. Saakashvili continued what Shevardnadze started and managed to enforce the obligations Russia took in 1999 about the withdrawal of military bases.

However, Russia maintained its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The major misfortune for Saakashvili’s foreign policy was the war in August 2008 with Russia. As a result of the war Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thus legally breaching Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty that it had previously recognized. Despite the legacy of the war, Georgia moved forward on its path of Western integration eventually upgrading its institutional framework of relationships both with NATO and the EU. This path was taken up by the subsequent government under the leadership of Bidzina Ivanishvili who came to power in 2012 as theprime minister of the country. Ivanishvili’s party, the Georgian Dream, still remains in power even though Ivanishvili stepped down from the position of prime minister.

Yet, it is often believed that Ivanishvili remains the informal leader of the state. Although it was feared that Ivanishvili would return Georgia to the Russian sphere of influence, it has not happened and Georgia continued deepening its relations with Western institutions while at the same time adopting the so-called “normalization” policy with Russia that implies restoring trade and economic relations between the two neighbours. Under the leadership of the Georgian Dream (GD) government, Georgia signed theAssociation Agreement and obtained the visa-free regime with the EU, which can be considered as the major achievements of Georgian foreign policy during the last decade. However, Georgia’s security is far from straightforward, which is why the rest of the report will overview various narratives, dynamics of public opinion, analysis of strategic documents and dynamics of threat perception in the domestic arena.


Read the full report in the attached PDF file.