Monday

26th Feb 2024

Opinion

Why is Georgia strengthening relations with Moscow?

  • It is even stranger that, despite the ruling Georgian Dream party's fixation on creating policies to improve relations with Russia, the Russian Federation continues to occupy Georgian territory (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)
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Georgian Dream continues to turn heads in the West, as the ruling party in Georgia seeks to strengthen ties with Russia.

Earlier this year, Russia lifted bans on direct flights from Russia to Georgia.

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In addition, the Russian Federation abolished "long-standing visa requirements for Georgian nationals." These developments occur as the international community continues to impose sanctions on Russia due to that country's illegal and unnecessary invasion of Ukraine.

It is a mystery why the ruling Georgian party has pursued a warmer relationship with Russia. For months, the citizens of Georgia and Georgian opposition groups have called on their country to strengthen ties with the West. Recently polling conducted by the National Democratic Institute found that Georgians have an "unwavering support for European integration." According to the survey, 81 percent of Georgians support European integration. Similarly, 73 percent of Georgians "remain supportive of Nato membership."

Georgian citizens have also strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and they have not welcomed Russians to their country.

Recently, several Georgian citizens protested against the arrival of a Russian cruise ship to Georgia. Georgian citizens waved Ukrainian and Georgian flags, and passengers on the vessel were jeered.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, and given Georgia's own history with Russia, many Georgians today are unwilling to speak Russian. These Georgians are still haunted by the atrocities committed by the Russians during the Soviet period. They also see Russia as an occupying force. It is therefore puzzling that a country's population does not support its northern neighbour, yet its government continues to implement policies that strengthens relations between these two entities.

Meanwhile, Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili has condemned the actions of Georgian Dream. In a statement in March, Zourabichvili inquired why Georgian Dream "strayed from the people's will." The ruling party in Georgia previously stated that it would bring "justice and democracy" to the country. Instead, Georgian Dream has only brought further hardships and issues to Georgia.

EU wary of Tbilisi

Their policies and actions have been questioned by the European Union, where Georgia was not granted EU candidate status last summer. The Europeans presented the Georgians with a list of recommendations on how they could reform their government, but Georgian Dream criticised the EU's decision.

Like the president, opposition parties within Georgia have also accused Georgian Dream of "threatening Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic future."

In a statement issued by the opposition in May 2023, the group said that the policies pursued by Georgian Dream have led their country to face the "real risk of international isolation and of being left in Russia's sphere of influence."

For example, Georgian Dream has criticised the work of the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. The ruling party also announced that it would leave Europe's second-largest political group of social-democratic forces.

These actions, in addition to Georgian Dream's decision to welcome air travel between Georgia and Russia, suggest that the ruling party is not interested in Georgia's European aspirations. Instead, they are pursuing a policy of closer relations with Russia.

What is even stranger is that, despite Georgian Dream's fixation on creating policies to improve relations with Russia, the Russian Federation continues to occupy Georgian territory. In August 2008, a conflict emerged in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. During this period, an explosion near the south Ossetian city of Tskhinvali injured five Georgian police officers, and a skirmish erupted between the Georgians and South Ossetians. Days later, Abkhazian separatists attacked Georgian officers, forcing Georgia into a two-front conflict. As president Saakashvili called for a ceasefire, the fighting intensified. Russian troops quickly arrived, claiming they would serve as peacekeepers. Instead, they decided to occupy these two regions. To date, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have Russian forces.

Despite these events, Russia has managed to win friends within the Georgian government. According to a report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "Georgia's exports to Russia increased [in 2022] by 6.8 percent to $652m [€594m]." Meanwhile, exports from Georgia to Russia "soared by 79 percent to $1.8bn."

In other words, Georgian Dream is profiting from its decisions to strengthen relations with Russia.

Given these conflicting approaches and opinions, Georgian citizens and the opposition must continue to collaborate to ensure that their country will have a European future.

Georgian Dream has shown that it is unwilling or disinterested in pursuing a future closer to Europe. Instead, the party's actions suggest that it is more consumed with financial gain and maintaining power rather than creating a prosperous future.

With current efforts exhausted by citizens and the opposition groups, and with Georgian Dream appearing to be disinterested in changing its ways, perhaps the 2024 parliamentary elections in Georgia will be the only way to bring about true change.

For some, the elections cannot come soon enough.

Author bio

Mark Temnycky is a Ukrainian-American freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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