Georgia–Russia relations

Georgia–Russia relations



The relations between Georgia and Russia date back hundreds of years and remain complicated despite certain religious and historical ties that exist between the two countries and their people.[1] The first formal alliance between Georgia and Russia took place in 1783 when, as a last attempt to deal with repeated Persian invasions, king Heraclius II of Eastern Georgia (Kartlinia-Kahetia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, which the Georgian monarchy viewed as a replacement for its long-lost Orthodox ally, the Eastern Roman Empire.[1]

Despite Russia's vowing to defend Eastern Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Persians invaded in 1785 and again in 1795, as they sought to bring the region back under full Persian hegemony following their loosened grip over it since the death of Nader Shah in 1747. It was only belatedly that Catherine the Great of Russia put in place punitive measures against Persia, only to be cut short by her death and the enthronement of Paul against the Empress' wishes. Lacking his mother's experience and tactfulness, in December 1800 Paul signed the proclamation on the annexation of Georgia to the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801,[2][3] and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801.[4][5] The Georgian ambassador in Russia reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin[6] but despite this, in May 1801 Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring officially enforced the Russian control of the kingdom and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev.[7] By this, Persia officially lost control over the Georgian lands it had been ruling for centuries.[8]

The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring surrounded the nobility in Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were temporarily arrested.[9] This was followed by the dethronement and exile of the Georgian monarch, as well as the head of the church, to St Petersburg in what was viewed in Georgia as violation of the Georgievsk Treaty.

Having spent more than a century as part of the Russian Empire, in 1918 Georgia regained independence and established the First Republic. In 1921 Georgia was invaded and occupied by Bolshevik Russia to form the Soviet Union in 1922. When the country regained independence in 1991, the bilateral Russo-Georgian ties were once again strained due to Moscow's support of the separatist regions within Georgia, Georgia's independent energy policies and most recently, its intentions to join NATO.

On August 29, 2008, in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian War, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze announced that Georgia had broken diplomatic relations with Russia. He also said that Russian diplomats must leave Georgia, and that no Georgian diplomat would remain in Russia, while only consular relations would be maintained. Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said that Russia regretted this step.[10]

The 11th Red Army of the Russian SFSR occupies Tbilisi, 25 February 1921

Post-independence relations (1992–2003)

Russia has supported separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the early 1990s. This is arguably the greatest problem of Georgian–Russian relations

The tensions between Georgia and Russia, which had been heightened even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, climaxed during the secessionist conflict in Abkhazia in 1992–93. Support for the Abkhaz from various groups within Russia such as the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, Cossacks, and regular military units, and support for South Ossetia by their ethnic brethren who lived in Russia's federal subject of North Ossetia proved critical in the de facto secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.

In the aftermath of the military setback in Abkhazia in 1993, the Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze had to accede to the Kremlin's pressure. In exchange for Russian support against forces loyal to the ousted Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and legitimize the Russian military bases in Georgia: Vaziani Military Base, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Batumi.

At the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Istanbul Summit of November 1999, agreement was reached that the bases would all be evacuated by Russia before July 1, 2001.[11]

Vaziani was handed over on June 29, 2001. Akhalkalaki was not handed over until June 27, 2007, and Batumi on November 13, 2007. Being in Abkhazia, the base at Gudauta has never been under the control of Georgia.

Russia dominates the collective peacekeeping missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia but is criticized by Georgia, and, more recently, by several Western diplomats, for failing to maintain neutrality in the conflict zones.

Russia accused Georgia of helping Chechen separatists, and some supplies and reinforcements indeed reached the rebels via Georgian territory. The separatists also took refuge in the Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia. After Russia had threatened to launch cross-border attacks against them in 2002, the Georgian government took steps to establish order there with help from the USA.[12]

Relations after the Rose Revolution (2003–present)

Vladimir Putin with Mikheil Saakashvili in 2006

Rose Revolution


Further information: Abkhazia–Russia relations

Russia has lost its role as a mediator in the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict, according to Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. Speaking in a 2006 interview with a Russian newspaper, Bezhuashvili said that Georgia would try to create channels for "direct dialogue" alongside existing negotiating formats. Bezhuashvili also said that UN monitoring of the Kodori Gorge, which was suspended three years earlier, could resume within "two or three weeks" once security has been established. The following is the text of the interview published by Vremya Novostey on 4 August:

Russian–Georgian relations are going through a crisis. The Georgian operation in Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge led Moscow to accuse Georgia of violating earlier agreements. Tbilisi responded by accusing Moscow of supporting separatists. The day before yesterday, in the evening, the first casualties occurred among the Russian peacekeepers since the situation intensified: Maksim Basenko and Vladimir Vasilchuk were shot dead in the Gudauta District. Their deaths are most likely connected with the criminal world, since the peacekeepers were escorting a large sum of money for the payment of wages. The Abkhaz authorities are conducting an investigation. But Georgia perceives what happened as confirmation of the complex nature of the situation in the unrecognized republic.[13]

The Georgian Foreign Ministry accuses Russian peacemakers of inactivity in the conflict zone of Abkhazia. "Russian peacekeepers continue to act in defiance of their mandated obligations, turning a blind eye to gross violation of law and human rights taking place in their very presence", according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry.[14]

According to the 2005–06 agreements, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia was completed by January 1, 2008.

Russian ban of Georgian wines

Spying row

Georgian–Russian relations deteriorated seriously during the September–October 2006 Georgia–Russia spying row, when Georgia detained four Russian officers on spying charges. Russia responded by imposing economic sanctions on Georgia and withdrawing its embassy from Tbilisi.

Deportation of Georgians

The Georgia–Russia border zone at Upper Lars has been closed since 2006

During the spying row, the Russian authorities started to deport Georgian citizens from Russia on charges of visa violations. The government of Georgia as well as influential human rights organizations such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of "tolerating and encouraging the mistreatments of immigrants from Georgia and other Caucasus countries."[15] and of "a deliberate campaign to detain and expel thousands of Georgians living in Russia."[16] On 27 March 2007, Georgia filed an interstate lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights over the cases of violations of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the course of the deportation of Georgian citizens from Russia in the autumn of 2006. Russia described this as a "new unfriendly step taken against Russia".[17]

Alleged air space violations

Helicopter attack incident

In March, a village in the Georgian controlled area of Abkhazia was attacked by three Russian helicopters, according to Georgia. Russia denied the allegations.

Tsitelubani missile incident

On August 7, 2007, a missile landed in the Georgian-controlled village of Tsitelubani, some 65 km north of Tbilisi. Georgian officials said that two Russian fighter jets violated its airspace and fired a missile, which fell on the edge of the village but did not explode. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the incident was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against its neighbors and urged European states to condemn Moscow. Georgia claimed to have radar evidence proving that the invading aircraft flew in from Russia and said that the strike had aimed, unsuccessfully, at destroying radar equipment recently installed near the South Ossetian conflict zone.[18][19]

South Ossetian separatist leader Eduard Kokoity described the incident as "a provocation staged by the Georgian side, aimed at discrediting Russia", claiming that another bomb fell in South Ossetia.[20] In his words, "a Georgian military plane crossed into South Ossetia on Monday, performed manoeuvres above Ossetian villages and dropped two bombs."[20]

Russia also denied the Georgian claim.[21] and said that Georgian jets may have fired the missile on their own territory as a way of provoking tensions in the region and derailing a session of the Joint Control Commission on Georgian–South Ossetian Conflict Resolution.[22] Georgia immediately denounced the claim as absurd. South Ossetian officials as well as two Georgian opposition politicians also suggested that the Georgian authorities might have been behind the incident.[23][24][25]

Plane downing incident

The 2007 Georgia plane downing incident refers to the possible downing, by Georgia's anti-aircraft system, of a military plane that violated Georgia's air space on August 21, 2007. While it is still not confirmed by Georgia whether the plane was downed, Abkhazia's break-away government confirmed that a plane went down, but denies that it was shot down.

September 2007 controversy over the Russian ambassador's statement

On September 24, 2007, the Russian ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, became embroiled in a controversy over his statement at a televised informal meeting with Georgian intellectuals organized by the Tbilisi-based Russian–Georgian Friendship Union in which he referred to the Georgian people as a "dying-out nation", and announced to the Georgians that they will soon become extinct in the face of globalization while Russia is "a large country, a huge country. It can digest this. You, the Georgians, will fail to digest this."[26]

The statements sparked public outrage in Georgia, and Kovalenko was summoned by Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for explanations while the opposition factions in the Parliament of Georgia demanded the withdrawal of Kovalenko from Georgia. Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson, Nino Burjanadze, responded to the ambassador’s prediction: "Maybe, certain forces in Russia really want to see the extinction of Georgian nation, but this will not happen... I would advise Mr. Kovalenko to think about Russia and its demographic problems and we will ourselves take care of Georgian problems, including the demographic ones."[27][28]

Georgian demonstrations — alleged Russian involvement

In a televised address on the day of clashes between protesters and police in Tbilisi on November 7, 2007, Saakashvili said his country faced "a very serious threat of unrest". "High ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this," he said, adding that he had evidence. He said several Russian diplomats would be expelled from Georgia for engaging in "espionage". Earlier he had recalled Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Irakly Chubinishvili, for "consultations".[29][30]

2008 crisis

April 2008 Georgian drone downing incident

On April 20, 2008 a Georgian unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down over the Abkhazian conflict zone.

However, Georgia's defence ministry released video the next day showing what appears to be a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the unarmed Georgian drone. According to Georgia the jet came from Gudauta and then returned to Russia. Moscow denied Georgia’s accusation and stressed that none of its planes were in the region at the time.[31] Furthermore, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement accusing Georgia of violating the 1994 Moscow agreement and United Nations resolutions on Abkhazia by deploying without authorisation a UAV (which also can be used to direct fire) in the Security Zone and the Restricted Weapons Zone.[32]

On April 24, a closed-door U.N. Security Council emergency session, convened at Georgia’s request, failed to resolve the dispute, but the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing their concern over Russia’s recent moves in Abkhazia and calling Moscow to reverse or not to implement its decision to legalize the ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, called the demand by the Western states "a tall order" and stressed that Russia had no intention of reversing its plans.[33]

Although Moscow denies that a MiG-class fighter was involved in the incident, the Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has suggested that a MiG-29 belonging to a NATO member might have downed the Georgian spy plane. In response, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reportedly remarked that he would "eat his tie if it turned out that a NATO MiG-29 had magically appeared in Abkhazia and shot down a Georgian drone."[34]

On May 26, 2008, the U.N. mission released the conclusion of its independent investigation into the incident. It confirmed that the Georgian video footage and radar data were authentic and the jet which destroyed the drone was indeed Russian. The concluding report said that the jet flew towards the Russian territory after the incident, but it was unclear where the attacker took off, naming the Gudauta base as a possible locality. The mission also noted that "a reconnaissance mission by a military aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, constituted 'military action' and therefore contravened the ceasefire accord".[35] Georgia hailed the report,[36] but Russia dismissed it.[37]

Military buildup in Abkhazia

The UAV incident triggered a new rise in tensions between the two countries. Russia accused Georgia of trying to exploit the NATO support to solve the Abkhazia problem by force and of sending its troops into the Georgia-controlled upper Kodori Valley in northeast Abkhazia. However, the U.N. monitors in Abkhazia stated earlier in April they did not observe any military buildup on either side of the demilitarization line. On April 29, Russia announced it would increase its military presence in the region and threatened to retaliate militarily against Georgia’s efforts. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, it increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 peacekeepers, which is 458 short of the 3,000 limit set by agreement.[38] The Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia would treat any additional troops in Abkhazia as aggressors, while President Saakashvili, in his televised address, pledged to pursue only a peaceful line in the conflict areas and called upon the Abkhaz and Ossetians to unite with Georgia in defying attempts by "outrageous and irresponsible external force to trigger bloodshed".[39] The European Union also urged caution, saying that to increase troop numbers would be "unwise" given current tensions, while the United States called on Russia "to reconsider some provocative steps" it had taken in respect of Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia.[40] Georgia also suspended the talks regarding Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and threatened to veto the process.[41] Georgian officials claim Russia is changing facts on the ground in order to make it impossible for NATO foreign ministers to give Georgia a Membership Action Plan when they meet in December 2008.[42] In the meantime, the Russian Cossacks and North Caucasian mountaineers declared their readiness to fight Georgia again in the case of a renewed confrontation in Abkhazia as they did early in the 1990s.[43] On May 6, 2008, the Georgian state minister for reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia was on the verge of war with Russia.[44] Georgia requested the U.N. mission to inquire into the number and deployment of the Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the chief U.N. observer "agreed that actions by the Russian side do not contradict basic agreements on the conduct of the peacekeeping operation", but the mission later responded to this statement, declaring that it "has no authority to pronounce on the conformity between the CIS peacekeeping operation in the Zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict and CIS rules."[45]

Early in May 2008, both Russian and Abkhaz sides claimed that three more Georgian reconnaissance drones were shot over Abkhazia, and declared that Georgia was preparing to mount an offensive into the region in the near future. The Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba asked Russia to place Abkhazia under Russia's military control in exchange for security guarantees.[46] Georgia denied these allegations, stating that it was "a provocation aimed at propagandistic support of Russia’s military intervention."[47]

Russo-Georgian War

Main article: Russo-Georgian War

On August 8, 2008, after weeks of rising tensions Georgian troops tried to retake the breakaway province and launched an offensive, including heavy bombardment of Tskhinvali. Russian forces entered South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After four days of intense fighting, Georgian forces were expelled from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian paratroopers raided Georgian bases from Abkhazia. The Russian Air Force bombed military and logistical targets inside Georgia, and the Russian Navy entered Abkhazian waters and defeated Georgian Naval Forces in a brief skirmish. Both sides agreed to a ceasefire on August 12, but the next day Russia violated that ceasefire, sending regular and paramilitary forces into Georgia proper. The Georgian Army retreated to defend Tbilisi, and the Russians took the main highway and the cities of Poti and Gori without a fight, removing or destroying any military equipment left behind, and set up "buffer zones" around the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders, gradually withdrawing.

Georgia's military strength was damaged, but quickly recovered, having reached a strength greater than pre-war levels in 2010. Russia stationed additional forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and built new military bases there.

Russian recognition of the breakaway regions and the severance of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia

Russian military bases in Tskhinvali Region as of 2015

On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[48] On the following day, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognizing the two entities.[49] Georgia has rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory;[50] Western nations such as the United States and Germany have also opposed such a decision.[51] In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government announced that the country cut all diplomatic relations with Russia.[52] Russia had already closed its embassy right after the beginning of the war in South Ossetia in August 2008 before diplomatic relations between the two countries ended.

Vladimir Putin visited Abkhazia on 25 August 2013 and met with his Abkhaz counterpart Alexander Ankvab to discuss bilateral collaboration, sparking protests from Georgia's government, which called the visit "another infringement on Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty."[53]

Relations after 2010

In February 2012, Georgia introduced visa-free regime for Russians visiting Georgia for short visits.[54] In December 2012, Russian and Georgian representatives had the first two-way discussions after the war.[55]

Further reading


  1. 1 2 Ammon, Philipp: Georgien zwischen Eigenstaatlichkeit und russischer Okkupation: Die Wurzeln des russisch-georgischen Konflikts vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zum Ende der ersten georgischen Republik (1921), Kitab, Klagenfurt 2015, ISBN 978-3902878458
  2. Gvosdev, Nikolas K.: Imperial policies and perspectives towards Georgia: 1760–1819, Macmillan, Basingstoke 2000, ISBN 0-312-22990-9, p. 85
  3. Avalov (1906), p. 186
  4. Gvosdev (2000), p. 86
  5. Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, St Vladimirs Seminary Pr; N.e.of 2r.e. edition (March 1997) by David Marshall Lang, p. 249
  6. Lang (1997), p. 251
  7. Lang (1997), p. 247
  8. "Russia and Britain in Persia: Imperial Ambitions in Qajar Iran". Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  9. Lang (1997), p. 252
  10. Georgia breaks relations with Russia
  11. BBC, Q&A: Russian–Georgian ties, 2 October 2006
  12. "Russia has lost its role as a mediator in the Georgian–Abkhaz conflict"
  13. Georgian Foreign Ministry accuses Russian peacemakers in inactivity in the conflict zone of Abkhazia
  15. Russia Targets Georgians for Expulsion. The Human Rights Watch. October 1, 2007.
  16. Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Regarding Georgia's Lawsuit Against Russia
  17. Report Gives Some Details on Missile Strike. Civil Georgia. August 9, 2007.
  18. Russia and Georgia lock horns over missile.August 9, 2007.
  19. 1 2 Parfitt, Tom (August 8, 2007). "Georgia accuses Russia of bombing village". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
  20. Georgia Says Russian Jets Intruded. Guardian Unlimited, August 7, 2007.
  21. "Russian Missile Reaches UN". Kommersant. Retrieved 2007-08-10.
  22. Holley, David (2007-08-08). "Georgia accuses Russia of provocation". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 19, 2008. Retrieved 2007-08-09.
  23. "Natelashvili considers Tsitelubani incident to be provocation planned by government". Imedi TV. 2007-08-08. Retrieved 2007-08-09.
  24. South Ossetia says it can prove Georgian plane violated airspace. RIA Novosti, August 8, 2007.
  26. Tbilisi indignant at Russian ambassador predicting extinction of Georgian nation. Regnum.Ru. 09/24/2007.
  27. Row over Russian Envoy's 'Dying-Out Nation' Remarks. Civil Georgia. 2007-09-24.
  28. Al Jazeera English – News – Georgia Declares State Of Emergency
  29. BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia 'behind Georgia's unrest'
  30. BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia 'shot down Georgia drone'
  31. Комментарий Департамента информации и печати МИД России в связи с вопросами СМИ относительно инцидента с грузинским беспилотным самолетом 20 апреля 2008 года (Commentary of the Department of the Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the incident involving the Georgian UAV on April 20, 2008), 22.04.2008 (Russian)
  32. Russia criticised over Abkhazia. The BBC News, 24 April 2008.
  33. Russia's Moves Add To Strains With Georgia. The Washington Post. May 1, 2008.
  34. Report of UNOMIG on the incident of 20 April involving the downing of a Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle over the zone of conflict. UNOMIG. 2008-05-26.
  35. UN Probe Says Russian Jet Downed Georgian Drone. Civil Georgia. 2008-05-26.
  36. Russian Air Force Official Denies UN Probe Claim on Drone Downing. Civil Georgia. 2008-05-26.
  37. Russia Gives Some Details on Troop Increase in Abkhazia. Civil Georgia. May 9, 2008.
  38. Saakashvili Calls Abkhazians, Ossetians to Jointly Resist External Force. Civil Georgia. April 29, 2008.
  39. Russia Takes 'Provocative Steps' with Georgia – U.S. Civil Georgia. May 7, 2008.
  40. Georgia-Russia tensions ramped up.. The BBC News. April 30, 2008.
  41. Russia-Georgia Tensions Flare Up. The Wall Street Journal. April 30, 2008.
  42. (Russian) Казаки и кавказские горцы готовы помочь Абхазии. April 30, 2008.
  43. State Minister: Georgia ‘Very Close’ to War. Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 2008-05-06.
  44. UNOMIG Denies Military Buildup in Abkhaz Conflict Zone. Civil Georgia. May 8, 2008.
  45. Abkhazia seeks security guarantees from Russia. Itar-Tass. May 6, 2008.
  46. Abkhaz Claim Two Georgian Drones Downed, Tbilisi Denies. Civil Georgia. May 5, 2008.
  47. Russian MPs back Georgia's rebels, BBC, 2008-08-25. Accessed 2008-08-26.
  48. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, Azerbaijan Business Center, 2008-08-26. Accessed 2008-08-26.
  49. Medvedev recognises Georgian states, Al Jazeera, 2008-08-26. Accessed 2008-08-26.
  50. Russia recognizes Georgia's breakaway republics, RIA Novosti, 2008-08-26. Accessed 2008-08-26.
  51. "Georgia breaks ties with Russia" BBC News. Accessed on August 29, 2008.
  52. "Georgia Protests Putin's Visit to Abkhazia". RIA Novosti. 2013-08-26.
  53. Саакашвили издал указ об отмене визового режима с Россией ИА REGNUM 29.02.2012
  54. Россия и Грузия вызвались на разговор // Коммерсант 15.12.2012
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