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Georgia's Loyal Policy to Russia: At What Cost?

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
In the Russia-Ukraine war, the government of Georgia pursues an extremely loyal policy towards Russia, and Moscow is preparing for the annexation of the occupied territories of Georgia. The opposition talks about the collapse of the government's foreign policy, and the government still blames the opposition.

On the anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, the representatives of the Georgian government do not go to Kyiv despite the invitation, the representative of the Georgian government, let's say the president, was not in Warsaw to listen to US President George Biden. Georgia has disappeared from the world's agenda - in the extensive speech of the US President, everyone - Poland, Moldova, Belarusian opposition, but not Georgia - was thanked. Our country was not included in the list of states that fight for Western values.

Instead, the Georgian government talks about a 'global war party' that wants to involve Georgia in the war against Russia. According to Mamuka Mdinaradze, one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream, if a second front is opened in Georgia, it will detain at least 50 thousand Russian soldiers, "it will help Ukraine a lot and weaken Russia a lot", but they do not think that as a result, Georgia will collapse.

In exchange for Georgia's loyal policy towards Russia, they talked in Moscow about restoring air flights and canceling the visa regime, which the Georgian government is not against and claims that it will make life easier for "Georgian citizens in Russia".

However, these possible steps taken by Moscow are not at all derived from the interests of Georgia and are more aimed at "making life easier" for tens of thousands of Russian citizens settled in Georgia, and for tying Georgia to Russia even more economically.

The loyal policy of the Georgian Dream does not necessarily stop Moscow's aggressive policy. In the conditions of the not-very-successful war in Ukraine, Moscow is trying to strengthen its positions in all possible directions. A number of experts say that the Kremlin is preparing for the annexation of the occupied territories of Georgia - Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.

According to one version, this will happen by creating a "new allied state" in which Belarus, the occupied regions of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali will join Russia. However, in Putin's rhetoric, the idea of restoring the "union state" has long been overshadowed by the idea of restoring "historical Russia". On the anniversary of the war in Ukraine, Putin said in his speech that "Russia is fighting for its historical lands". Therefore, it is more likely that Moscow will directly annex the territories of Georgia and will not bother with signing the "Alliance Agreement".

In any case, on February 21, the so-called President of Abkhazia occupied by Russia, Aslan Bzhania, arrived in Minsk and met with the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, which represented another aggressive step towards Georgia. This was a continuation of Lukashenka's step, who arrived in occupied Sokhumi in September 2022.

This was a violation of Georgia's 'Occupation' law, but the Georgian authorities did not actually notice it at the time. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili responded strongly to Bzhania's appearance in Minsk.

"This is another flagrant violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Salome Zourabichvili wrote on Twitter. At the end of the day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia issued a statement and called on Belarus to "respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within the internationally recognized borders".

The reaction of the opposition was harsh. Former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who joined the opposition, considered Lukashenko's meeting with the president of occupied Abkhazia as "the collapse of the government's foreign policy" and called on the ruling "Georgian Dream" to "stop labeling Georgia's true friends as enemies" and "immediately mobilize the support of the West". He also strongly criticized Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is behind the Georgian Dream. Because of this criticism, it is not excluded that legal proceedings will be initiated against the former prime minister.

Franak Vyachorka, the adviser to Belarus oppositionist Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, condemned Lukashenka's actions and called on the Georgian authorities to "act quickly and firmly" and cut all ties with Lukashenka.

The government of Georgia is not going to do much more. "The radical opposition wants the maximum escalation so that somehow Belarus recognizes the so-called independence of our regions - we cannot tolerate such provocations in any way," said the chairman of the Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze. According to widespread information, the second leader of the separatists from Tskhinvali, Alan Gagloev, was supposed to meet Putin in Moscow, but he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and the meeting was canceled.

The movement of separatist leaders to Russia and Belarus shows two things: on the one hand, Russia continues its policy of seizing Georgian territories, and on the other hand, the current government of Georgia is simply ignoring this and has no plan to restore the country's territorial integrity.