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Tense political atmosphere prevailed as Georgia marked 15th anniversary of 2008 war with Russia; former Russian president warned Moscow could annex breakaway regions.
15th anniversary of Russia-Georgia 2008 war provoked fierce debate. Foreign Ministry 7 Aug called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory on occasion of 15th anniversary of Russian-Georgian war. Opposing narratives of conflict, meanwhile, dominated anniversary. Notably, PM Garibashvili 8 Aug blamed former govt of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili for war that “could have been avoided”; move followed chairman of main opposition party United National Movement day before criticising ruling Georgian Dream for allowing Russia to pursue its goals even after war ended. EU and U.S. 7 Aug condemned Moscow’s invasion, while Russian officials sought to shift blame onto NATO; notably, deputy Head of Russian Security Council and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev 8 Aug claimed “the U.S. and its vassals” had waged proxy war in Georgia. Breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia 7 Aug praised Russian “aid” in 2008.
Former Russian president threatened to annex breakaways. Ahead of 15th anniversary of Russia recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s independence on 25 Aug, Medvedev 23 Aug published article in Argumenty i Fakty newspaper blaming NATO for escalating tensions over Georgia by discussing country’s potential membership to alliance. He concluded by threatening to annex breakaways “if there are good reasons”; Tbilisi same day condemned comments.
Prospects for NATO and EU membership looked uncertain amid stagnant reforms, and 58th round of Geneva talks concluded without new agreements.
NATO summit yielded little for prospective Georgian membership. Leaders of NATO alliance 11-12 July met in Lithuanian capital Vilnius for second summit since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. NATO 11 July reaffirmed Bucharest Agreement promising Georgia membership. Unlike Ukraine, however, which was offered post-war fast track to membership, Tbilisi walked away empty-handed, triggering frustration among opposition. Ruling Georgian Dream party’s pro-Russian rhetoric and failure to enact reforms may explain NATO’s changing position.
Violent disruption at LGBTQ+ event further jeopardised Georgia’s EU ambitions. Thousands of protesters, many with far-right ties, 8 July violently disrupted Tbilisi Pride festival. Organisers, who were forced to cancel event, accused govt of coordinating attack with far right. EU Delegation to Georgia same day expressed disappointment “that security and freedom of assembly could not be ensured” while Czech ambassador to Georgia said events indicated country was not doing enough to secure candidate status.
Protests broke out at Batumi port following arrival of Russian cruise ship. Cruise ship carrying some 800 mostly Russian tourists 27 July arrived in Black Sea port of Batumi from Russian port of Sochi. Protests same day erupted at port amid reports of passengers voicing support for 2008 Russo-Georgian War, forcing cruise to leave ahead of schedule; ship 31 July met fresh protests upon its return to Batumi.
Latest round of Geneva International Discussions took place. 58th round of Geneva International Discussions – multilateral forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of 2008 Russo-Georgian War – 11-12 July took place. Talks yielded no new announcements, though participants reaffirmed their commitment to process; next round scheduled for December.
UN General Assembly adopted Georgia’s resolution on rights of internally displaced people and refugees from breakaway regions, while EU welcomed govt’s positive political steps.
Georgia won overwhelming support for UN resolution on breakaway regions. In notable triumph for Georgian diplomacy that underscored Moscow’s growing isolation on global stage, Georgia 8 June secured support of 100 countries for UN General Assembly resolution that, while not legally binding, asserts rights of internally displaced persons and refugees from breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia to return to their homes, emphasising importance of protecting their property rights and condemning any instances of “forced demographic changes”; similar vote in 2008 had secured only 14 votes in favour. Russia, which 8 June said resolution undermined “normalisation in the region”, voted against it alongside nine other states, including Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua; Russian-backed de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia 15 June claimed resolution was “another act of repeated political farce”.
Govt took steps aligned with EU accession path. PM Garibashvili 21 June announced he had “clearly confirmed” to European and U.S. partners that ruling Georgian Dream party would not renew attempts to adopt foreign influence bill, which triggered widespread domestic opposition and tensions with Western countries in March. EU 22 June welcomed announcement; it also praised Georgian Dream’s 21 June decision not to pass controversial de-oligarchisation law, and 22 June pardoning of former minister Nika Gvaramia, whom authorities had accused of abuse of power.
Russia cancelled visa requirements for Georgians and resumed flights to capital Tbilisi amid internal and external opposition.
Russia cancelled visa regime and resumed direct flights to Georgia. Russian President Putin 10 May abolished visa requirement for Georgian citizens, imposed early 2000s when Georgia accepted refugees and fighters fleeing war in Chechnya, and lifted ban on direct flights. One Russian airline 19 May resumed flights to capital Tbilisi, more expected early June; starting 20 May, Georgian Airways launched direct daily flights to Russia.
West and opposition criticised resumption of flights, govt remained defiant. President Zourabichvili 16 May labelled decision to cancel visa requirements and resume flights “a Russian provocation” while opposition 19 May gathered around 200 protesters at airport to oppose flight; U.S. State Dept 22 May warned “companies in Georgian airports could be at risk [of] sanctions”; and EU 29 May said decision contradicts position of member states. Breakaways Abkhazia and South Ossetia mid-May also raised concerns. PM Garibashvili 24 May defended decision.
Govt claimed progress on EU candidate status reforms. As Brussels finalised report concerning Georgia’s progress on reforms needed to earn candidate status, FM 9 May claimed authorities had adopted most recommendations, with “around 20% still to deliver”.
Geneva International Discussions (GID) took place after months-long pause with no sign of diplomatic breakthrough; U.S. sanctioned judges for corruption.
“Tough” conversations occurred during 57th round of Geneva Discussions. After several postponements, Geneva 4-5 April hosted 57th round of GIDs – multilateral forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Co-chairs 5 April reported that participants were unable to reach “common understanding” during talks and that Russian, de facto Abkhaz and de facto South Ossetian participants walked out when Tbilisi raised issue of return of internally displaced people and refugees; Tbilisi refused to compromise on proposals from Moscow and breakaways regarding agreement on non-use of force. EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar 5 April and Georgia’s deputy foreign minister 6 April admitted dialogue was “tough”. Still, participants reiterated commitment to process; next round planned for “mid-July”. Despite troubled Geneva talks, meeting of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (structure aimed at defusing tensions in South Ossetian conflict zone) 27 April took place; participants notably praised de facto authorities for opening two crossing points along South Ossetian administrative boundary line for Orthodox Easter festivities.
Govt condemned U.S. for sanctioning judges. U.S. 5 April sanctioned four Georgian judges for “significant corruption” that undermined “faith” in judicial system. Chairman of ruling party Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze same day criticised move and accused U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken of seeking to “stigmatise” judiciary; PM Gharibashvili 10 April expressed his “full support” for judiciary. Opposition 6 April called for investigation into “clan rule” within judiciary, ruling coalition 19 April prevented initiative.
Ruling party withdrew controversial “foreign agents” law following days of large-scale protests; de facto authorities in Abkhazia and Russian officials blamed West for fomenting unrest.
Major protests prompted ruling party to drop foreign agents law. Parliament deliberations early March about controversial foreign agent’s bill, backed by ruling Georgian Dream party, triggered unrest in capital Tbilisi. Notably, demonstrators 2, 6 March took to streets to protest bill, which would oblige NGOs and media outlets receiving over 20% of funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence”. Despite unrest, ruling party pressed ahead to pass legislation, with parliament 7 March adopting law in first reading. Thousands of Georgians same day spontaneously gathered in front of parliament to protest, leading to violent confrontations with riot police, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters. Second, larger protest 8 March also ended in violent dispersal and police detained over 130 people. European Union and U.S. same day urged authorities to respect right to protest and expressed concern about draft law. Ruling party 9 March withdrew bill and police released all those detained during protest.
Breakaway Abkhazia organised drills in response to protests. De facto officials in breakaway Abkhazia and Russian officials 9-10 March accused Western countries of instigating coup in Georgia, aimed at creating “a second front against Russia”. De facto leadership of Abkhazia 12-14 March organised military drills along line of separation, citing need for more training in face of “changing geopolitical situation in the region”. De facto Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania 21 March raised “combat readiness” of de facto armed forces, alleging more protests “are being prepared” in Georgia in April. Abkhazia and Russia 24 March held “defensive” joint military exercise. Meanwhile, EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar 16-17 March travelled to Abkhazia, where de facto leadership declared readiness to participate in Geneva International Dialogue planned for early April.
Russia and breakaway regions responded harshly after co-chairs of Geneva International Discussions postponed talks; foreign agents law proposal sparked controversy.
Russia and de facto authorities continued to deny entry to co-chairs of Geneva talks. After co-chairs of Geneva International Discussions late Jan postponed planned 57th round of talks until April, Abkhazia and South Ossetia de facto authorities, as well as Russia, voiced anger at “unilateral” move and denied co-chairs entry to either breakaway regions or Moscow, despite visits scheduled for 8-9 Feb. Despite this move, co-chairs decided to proceed with their planned trip to capital Tbilisi 6-7 Feb to meet with Georgian govt.
Proposed law on foreign influence provoked harsh criticism. People’s Power movement, closely affiliated with Georgian Dream party and critical of Western policies in Georgia, during month submitted two draft laws that would oblige NGOs and media outlets that receive over 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence”; failure to fulfil this requirement, which would apply to individuals as well, would result in variety of penalties from fines to prison term of up to five years. Georgian Dream party 21 Feb announced support for draft, but U.S. 16 Feb criticised law and rejected claim it resembles U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act; Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe same day raised “several concerns”; over 60 media outlets 27 Feb released joint statement “categorically opposing” draft law; and President Salome Zourabichvili 28 Feb pledged to veto it.
In other important developments. Tbilisi City Court 6 Feb ruled against transfer of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili abroad for health reasons.
Authorities debated possible resumption of Russian flights, and protesters took to streets demanding transfer abroad of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Russian plans to resume direct air traffic with Georgia fuelled debate. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 17 Jan said Moscow was considering resumption of air traffic with Georgia, suspended since 2019 at annual press conference in Moscow; Lavrov praised Georgia’s authorities for having “courage” to resist Western “pressure” on sanctions against Russia and for prioritising “the interests of their own economy”. Lavrov’s statement renewed debate about govt’s susceptibility toward Russia. Ruling party Georgian Dream 19 Jan welcomed “any such decision” on resumption of flights, insisting that Georgia was standing up for its “national interests”. However, President Salome Zourabichvili 20 Jan dismissed govt’s “incomprehensible” position while U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan same day said “most Georgians” would oppose resumption of flights. Meanwhile, after initially refusing requests from Ukraine to supply power generators amid Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure, govt 6 Jan sent 25 big power generators to Ukraine.
In other important developments. Amid mounting concern around health of imprisoned former President Saakashvili, street rallies 4 Jan took place in number of towns and cities, including Tbilisi, and foreign capitals, calling for his transfer abroad for medical treatment. Meanwhile, de facto Abkhaz authorities 31 Jan denied delegation of co-chairs from International Geneva discussions, who were planning visit 8-9 Feb, entry to breakaway region; Abkhazia’s de facto FM Inal Ardzinba cited “unilateral” decision to cancel 57th round of Geneva discussions, slated for 21 Feb, as reason for announcement.
Controversy over fate of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili grew, and Russia and breakaway Abkhazia signed cooperation agreement.
Authorities remained defiant over calls to transfer Saakashvili abroad for medical treatment. Amid mounting concern around health of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili, authorities 14 Dec released footage of Saakashvili inside hospital where he has been receiving treatment as “proof that his life is not in danger”. Move triggered backlash from opposition. Notably, four MPs from United National Movement party 15-16 Dec went on hunger strike and demanded his transfer abroad for treatment, which Saakashvili’s family have long demanded. Meanwhile, U.S. 12 Dec said govt is responsible for ensuring Saakashvili’s “health is respected and human rights are protected”; European Parliament 14 Dec voted for resolution calling for release of Saakashvili on humanitarian grounds; and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy 19 Dec urged authorities to permit Saakashvili’s transfer abroad. Hearing on transfer 22 Dec began but Saakashvili’s lawyer said Saakashvili felt unwell and trial proceeded without him. Next hearing on whether to defer or suspend Saakashvili’s case for health reasons expected 9 Jan.
Govt condemned senior Russian figure’s visit to breakaway Abkhazia. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin 1 Dec paid “first official” visit to breakaway Abkhazia; Volodin and de facto Abkhazian counterpart Lasha Ashuba 2 Dec signed cooperation agreement; Georgian foreign ministry same day condemned visit.
In other important developments. PM Gharibashvili 7 Dec ruled out military assistance to Ukraine, saying “we will never get involved in this war”; comments followed criticism from acting Ukrainian Ambassador to Georgia Andriy Kasyanov over repeated requests for military assistance.
Authorities took further steps to align with European Union’s (EU) candidacy status demands and expressed concerns over “illegal” arrests in breakaway Abkhazia.
Georgia and Western actors sought closer cooperation. European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi 15-16 Nov visited Tbilisi, underscoring EU’s interest in strengthening energy and security cooperation; leadership viewed visit as new chapter in Georgia-EU relations. Following trip, parliament 28 Nov paused adoption process for law on de-oligarchisation – one of EU’s demands as precondition for candidate status – to hear suggestions from Council of Europe’s Venice Commission amid pressure from EU officials; EU 28 Nov welcomed decision, saying it is “important to consult international standard setters and implement their recommendations”. Meanwhile, NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 21 Nov called for “more support” from Western defence alliance to Georgia, which he said is “vulnerable” to “Russian coercion and aggression”; NATO Allies 30 Nov agreed to “step up tailored support” to Georgia.
De facto authorities in breakaway Abkhazia detained more Georgian citizens. De facto security service 4 Nov detained Asmat Tavadze in Gali district on charges of illegal drug purchase and storage; de facto authorities also reported seizing Georgian flag and other Georgian state symbols found in her apartment. Georgia 5 Nov condemned de facto Abkhaz security forces for illegal detention and said “work was underway to release” her. Tbilisi 8 Nov announced another arrest of Georgian citizen in same area with similar charges.
After months-long pause, international forum to discuss consequences of 2008 Russo-Georgian war held.
New round of Geneva International Discussions held in Switzerland. After pause of nearly one year due to international tensions over Russian invasion of Ukraine (see Ukraine), 56th round of Geneva International Discussions – multilateral forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of 2008 Russo-Georgian War –held 5 Oct in Switzerland’s Palais des Nations. Deputy FM Lasha Darsalia 5 Oct described negotiation process as “particularly difficult” given “rather complicated security environment around us”. EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar same day commended “very useful” exchange of views, noting everyone was “committed” to continuing work in Geneva format.
In other important developments. EU Council 12 Oct announced plan on non-acceptance of Russian travel documents issued in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine; said decision was in “response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s practice of issuing Russian international passports to residents of the occupied regions”.
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