The war against Ukraine: whose side is Georgia on?

Of the three countries in the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia – the third is most excited about Russia’s war against Ukraine. But given the already tense Georgian-Russian relations, Kyiv still expected more from Georgians.

If for Armenia and Azerbaijan Russia is an ally and partner involved in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for Georgia it is an “aggressor” and “occupier” that has taken away Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian society has not yet forgotten the 2008 Russian-Georgian armed conflict over South Ossetia, which Russia called a “peace enforcement operation.”

In Georgian society, solidarity with Ukraine is strong: Georgia regularly sends humanitarian aid, receives Ukrainian refugees, and becomes one of the initiators of the International Criminal Court’s investigation in The Hague into Russia’s actions in Ukraine. At the same time, however, the Georgian government is cautious and does not make direct statements against Russia.

Georgia and sanctions

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has repeatedly said that Georgia will not join the anti-Russian sanctions, as it will become vulnerable. In addition, Russia itself has abruptly lifted previously imposed sanctions on Georgian dairy products, although the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture claims that the application was made in 2020.

Ukraine did not hide its disappointment. “Isn’t it a coincidence that official Tbilisi does not want to fully support Ukraine? Is it worth lifting the restrictions on Georgia’s 15 dairy companies to overcome our millennial friendship? our many years of joint struggle, over our mutual aspirations? “, reproached his Georgian counterparts the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ruslan Stefanchuk.

This and other claims of the Ukrainian side led to the fact that in late March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky decided to recall the Ukrainian ambassador from Tbilisi. Immediately afterward, it became known that Georgia had joined the sanctions, as President Salome Zurabishvili told CNN (Georgia has not imposed its own, but partially supports international sanctions).

The Georgian dream of peace

Even before, the ruling Georgian Dream party has been accused of being pro-Russian. It came to power in 2012, founded by oligarch and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a prominent Russian businessman. From the very beginning, his party opposed confrontation with the Kremlin and declared its desire to avoid a new war at all costs.

This position is not at all popular among the whole population. In 2018, this became an occasion for mass protests, culminating in the resignation of the Speaker of Parliament. After the start of the war in Ukraine, Georgian activists again staged protests to “embarrass” their government. But Prime Minister Garibashvili continues to repeat: “We want peace, stability, and development. Every patriotic leader must do everything possible to avoid war.”

Political scientist Paata Zakareishvili calls “strange” the behavior of official Tbilisi, which is against Russia in deeds but not in words: “Georgia votes in favor of all international anti-Russian resolutions. to irritate Russia. I can’t understand why. ”

Georgia is afraid – so be careful

The famous Georgian journalist Zviad Koridze defines the behavior of the “Georgian Dream” not as caution and responsibility to the people, but on the contrary – as irresponsibility and fear. “But the government should not be afraid. It should assess the risks and develop concrete preventive mechanisms,” Koridze said.

According to Koridze, such a mechanism would be joining the Western anti-war coalition. Without ruling out the possibility of an attack on Russia (under some formal pretext), the expert suggests that in such a case, Georgia could only be helped by its alliance with the West.

From the very beginning of the invasion, part of Georgian society fears that Russia may invade Georgia again. But even that does not justify government behavior in the eyes of the people. “I’m not unreasonable, I have children and I’m very afraid of war. But to ally with Russia and Belarus would be terrible – it’s a red line beyond which you lose your face, trust, partners, and friends,” said writer Tinatin Mzhavanadze.

But not everyone is so critical. Some experts find logic in the position of the “Georgian Dream” – such as political scientist Archil Sihraulidze. “Now the West is not ready to defend or fight for Georgia and Ukraine. These countries are forced to take care of themselves.” He does not miss the economic aspect – if the “Georgian Dream” joins all the sanctions, it would severely affect the country’s population, the political scientist said.

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