5: The conflict in South Ossetia
During 2005 and 2006, the allocations to the Armed Forces increased sharply. In the government, those who wanted a peaceful solution to the conflict were replaced by people who were more positive about the use of military force, including the new Minister of Defense, Irakli Orkuashvili. He has recently stated that he will celebrate New Year’s Eve in the capital of South Ossetia, which created some concern that the conflict would flare up again. However, there is much to suggest the opposite. First, according to 3RJEWELRY, Western countries have repeatedly said they want a peaceful solution to the conflict, and an attack therefore risks destroying relations with these countries.
Second, despite increased military allocations and some Western support, Georgia is still relatively weak militarily. The Georgian authorities are aware of this, and there is reason to believe that they will avoid open conflict. Some believe that the defense minister’s statement is primarily intended to make him popular with Georgian nationalists. At the same time, some fear that the Georgian authorities may make ill-considered decisions in the conflict with the South Ossetians. In the summer of 2004, the Georgians strengthened their presence in South Ossetia, and it developed into an extensive exchange of fire before retreating again. This was interpreted as a defeat for the Georgians and as the Saakashvili government’s first major defeat.
6: The conflict in Abkhazia
The Georgians consider the conflict in Abkhazia to be more serious than that in South Ossetia, and the Abkhazians to be more hostile and militarily stronger than the South Ossetians. Therefore, the government has also been more careful about coming into close military contact with the Abkhazians. Saakashvili and other prominent members of the government have nevertheless stated several times – often ambiguously – about the conflict with the Abkhazians. On the one hand, they have emphasized that they want a peaceful solution to the conflict. On the other hand, they have come up with undisguised threats that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to gain control of Abkhazia. The Abkhazians have interpreted this as meaning that the Georgians are willing to go to war if necessary and have responded just as irreconcilably.
7: Crisis in Kodori
In July 2006, a crisis arose in the Kodori Valley (see map). Georgian authorities sent special forces into the area, chased out the local leader and gained control of the territory. On September 26, the Kodori government announced that it would henceforth be called Upper Abkhazia. The next day, the Abkhazian government in exile was sent into the area. The authorities have also implemented various rehabilitation projects to strengthen the region’s infrastructure and link it closer to Georgia. This policy is perceived by many as a first step towards reconquering Abkhazia. For the Georgians, it is symbolically important to have an ethnic-Georgian government that is inside Abkhazia itself. The separatist government in Abkhazia has responded to this development with military exercises to show that it is ready for a major confrontation.
8: Foreign policy
Georgia’s location makes the country strategically very important . Some of the world’s largest oil and gas deposits are found in the Caspian Sea, and Georgia is the only alternative to Russia as a transit country for transporting these resources west. The country is also important because it borders the NATO country Turkey. It is also located between Russia and Armenia, which is a close ally of Russia. therefore, both the United States and Russia are interested in allying with or controlling Georgia.
Under Shevardnadze, Georgia pursued a pragmatic and sometimes shaky foreign policy between Russia and the United States. Saakashvili has studied in the United States, and under his leadership the country has set a strong US-friendly course . Among other things, US military advisers have trained Georgian forces, and President Bush was on a state visit to Georgia in the spring of 2005. However, relations between Georgia and Russia have deteriorated sharply.
Russia has imposed an import ban on Georgian (and Moldovan) wine and on the famous Borzomi mineral water. Due to their distinctive taste, it is difficult to find other markets for these products, and the Russian sanctions have hit parts of the Georgian economy hard. At the same time, Western aid and the transit revenues from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline mean that the Georgian economy is still developing positively. Statoil is a co-owner of the pipeline, which transports over one million barrels of oil per day from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean via Georgia and Turkey.
Georgia has responded by accusing several Russian officials of espionage. The accusations are presented in a public and confrontational / provocative way that is unusual in a diplomatic context. Russia, for its part, has closed the border crossings to Georgia and stopped all mail and all planes. Nearly one million Georgian labor migrants live in Russia, and the money they send home is normally an important part of the Georgian economy. Due to the Russian measures, this money no longer reaches. In addition, Georgians living in Russia are under strong pressure, and some have been sent back to Georgia.
The espionage case is one of several examples of Georgian authorities’ lack of pragmatic relations with Russia. Russia is blamed for many of the problems in the country, although there are often important local causes for these problems. For example, it is difficult for many Georgians to acknowledge that ethnic minorities have legitimate interests and are real counterparts that Georgians must deal with. Instead, the conflicts are often presented as encouraged by Russia. In the long run, there is a danger that Western actors will see through Georgian arguments and that support will wane. At the same time, the country’s strategic location ensures that the United States and other countries in the West cannot completely let go of their interests in Georgia.