The government’s repressive and disproportionate response to peaceful protests in November 2007 shocked Western capitals, which had viewed Georgia as a beacon of democracy in a region of illiberal regimes. Since the Rose Revolution, however, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration has become increasingly intolerant of dissent as it has sought to reform inefficient post-Soviet institutions, stimulate a deeply dysfunctional economy, regain the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and deal with its meddling Russian neighbour.
Tbilisi is taking imaginative steps towards solving the Georgian-Ossetian conflict but its new strategy may backfire, and frequent security incidents could degenerate into greater violence, unless it proceeds cautiously and engages all actors.
Georgia is a multinational state, building democratic institutions and forging a civic identity. However, it has made little progress towards integrating Armenian and Azeri minorities, who constitute over 12 per cent of the population.
A precarious peace is back in place between Georgia and South Ossetia after the long-frozen conflict nearly became a hot war again and drew in Russia when dozens were killed in August 2004 fighting. President Saakashvili tried to break a twelve-year deadlock and take another step to restore Georgia's territorial integrity by undermining the regime in Tskhinvali, but seriously miscalculated.
Mikhail Saakashvili passed an early test of his new presidency when through a skilful mix of threatened force and imaginative diplomacy he manoeuvred Aslan Abashidze into peacefully ending his thirteen-year control of Ajara in May 2004.
Georgia’s political crisis, which climaxed in the forced resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze on 23 November 2003, is not over yet and could still lead to violence and the country’s disintegration. Georgia, in other words, is still pre-conflict, not post-conflict, and exceptional international action is required to contain the potential for chaos.