Georgia, Republic of, Relations with

Georgia, Republic of, Relations with
   Georgia, one of the oldest Christian nations in the world, was incorporated into the Romanov Empire at the beginning of the 19th century. During the Russian Civil War, Georgia declared itself an independent democratic republic under Menshevik rule. However, driven by the ambitions of Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian himself, the Red Army invaded in 1921, setting the stage for the incorporation of Georgia into the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic a year later. In 1936, Georgia became a union republic. During the 1970s, the republic was governed by the anticorruption campaigner Eduard Shevardnadze, who would go on to become the last Soviet foreign minister. During the late 1980s, the anti-Communist movement developed rapidly in Georgia, placing strong centrifugal pressure on the Soviet Union itself. The push for independence, even among Georgian Communists, accelerated in the aftermath of a bloody suppression of a demonstration at Rustaveli Square in Tbilisi on 9 April 1989.
   The country declared its independence in April 1991 and elected the former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia as president. He was quickly deposed, triggering the Georgian Civil War, which would last until 1993. Gamsakhurdia’s nationalist rhetoric pushed many of the country’s ethnic minorities (Abkhaz, Ossetians, Armenians, and Ajars) into the arms of Russia, which took an active interest in weakening Georgia as part of its larger strategy to maintain control in its near abroad. Responding to the overtures, Moscow passively— and sometimes actively—supported breakaway republics in South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the years after independence. In 1992, Gamsakhurdia was forced into exile; a year later he returned to the country to confront the new president, Shevardnadze. Fearing further strife and interruptions in regional trade, Russia— along with Georgia’s neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan— backed the Shevardnadze regime. The quid pro quo was Georgia’s agreement to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and to maintain Russian bases at Vaziani, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki, and Batumi. At a 1999 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit, Russia and Georgia agreed that all the bases would be evacuated by Russia before 1 July 2001; however, Akhalkalaki and Batumi were not evacuated until 2007, and Gudauta, which is in Abkhazia, still remains.
   During the First Chechen War, relations between Tbilisi and Moscow grew progressively worse. Boris Yeltsin accused Georgia of sheltering Chechen guerillas in the Pankisi Gorge, a mountainous zone in the northeast of the country. Shevardnadze’s vocal proAmerican orientation further complicated bilateral relations. Under his leadership, Georgia declared its intentions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union and to participate in the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline intended to circumvent Russian and Iranian control over oil exports from the Caspian Sea. With the resumption of the Chechen War in 1999, the Georgian-Chechen border once again became a sticking point between Moscow and its Caucasian neighbor.
   In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Georgia significantly expanded military cooperation with the United States under the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) intended to improve the country’s counterterrorism capabilities and clear the Pankisi Gorge of radical Islamists. The close proximity of American Special Operations forces to Russia’s sensitive border in the North Caucasus sparked a storm of criticism in the Russian media. In November 2003, Shevardnadze was pushed out of power in the so-called Rose Revolution. His successor, Mikheil Saakashvili, expanded military ties with the United States and directly confronted the Moscow-backed regime of Aslan Abashidze in Ajaria; both moves were ill-received in Moscow. After a tense standoff in the spring of 2004, Abashidze lost the support of his Russian patrons and fled the country, allowing a reassertion of central government control of the Black Sea region. In the wake of the Ajaria Crisis, Russo-Georgian relations plummeted.
   The year 2006 was plagued by disputes between the two countries. In January, natural gas exports to Georgia were suspended after a series of pipeline explosions in North Ossetiya; the cessation of exports, however, was widely viewed in Georgia as sabotage to allow Gazprom to monopolize transit to the South Caucasus. In the spring, on the grounds of health and safety, Russia banned the import of Georgian wines and mineral water, two of the country’s most important exports (Russian consumption accounted for more than threequarters of Georgian wine production). In July, Emzar Kvitsiani, a local warlord, subverted Tbilisi’s control of the Kodori Gorge, the only area of Abkhazia it controlled after the civil war. Russian and Abkhazian officials condemned Georgian actions to retake the region as incendiary and a possible violation of the cease-fire. At the end of the summer, Georgia arrested four Russian military officers on charges of espionage. In retaliation, Moscow placed a ban on all transportation and postal links between the two countries. Russia also began a large-scale deportation of Georgian immigrants, many of whom were living and working legally in the Russian Federation. In November, the Russian energy giant Gazprom doubled prices just as winter was setting in; the move was condemned in Europe and the U.S. as a political tactic to keep Georgia in line with Russian interests in the region. In 2007, Russia violated Georgian sovereignty on several occasions, including Russian helicopter attacks on the Kodori Gorge, dropping an unexploded missile in the Gori District, and several violations of airspace. Saakashvili also accused the Russian secret services of being involved in an attempted coup d’état in November 2007. While Russia adjudicated a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the central government and Ajaria, Vladimir Putin signaled to Georgia that it would not brook Saakashvili’s encroachment into the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
   With significant numbers of peacekeepers (nominally CIS, but mostly Russian) in the republics, Moscow effectively functioned as a bulwark against reassertion of Georgian sovereignty. Despite the risk, Saakashvili ordered the Georgian military to retake Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s regional capital, on 8 August 2008, triggering the South Ossetian War. Russian troops, ostensibly to protect the lives of its peacekeepers, invaded Georgia proper, stopping only a few kilometers north of Tbilisi. After agreeing to a six-point peace plan negotiated by France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy, Russia implemented a cease-fire and slowly began withdrawal of its troops to “buffer zones” around Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
   On 26 August 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvyedev recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Georgia suspended diplomatic relations with Russia in response (the ambassador had been recalled in July 2008), while much of the international community condemned the declaration as a violation of international law. Medvyedev subsequently promised military aid to the republics in the event of attack by a third party.
   See also Foreign relations.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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