Georgia's Imperialist Balancing Act

Georgia has been normalizing relations with Russia since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. The Caucasian state has limited its support for Ukraine to diplomatic and humanitarian aid, and has not joined its traditional, Western allies in sanctioning Russia. In return, Russia has resumed direct flights to Georgia and lifted visa requirements for Georgian nationals. Bilateral trade between them has increased exponentially over the past two years, an indication of how Georgia is positioning itself as a conduit for imports, and has a lot to offer an embattled Russia in this respect(1). Hence, at the GLOBSEC security forum, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said one of the pivotal causes of the Russo-Ukrainian War was "NATO expansion… the desire of Ukraine to become a member of NATO”(2).

This comes as a great surprise, as the two states have been locking horns ever since the dissolution of the USSR. Georgia even applied for NATO membership prior to the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. Since then, it has continued doing drills with NATO, and is still pursuing EU candidacy. But Georgia is increasingly frustrated by the EU; last June(3), their application for candidacy was denied. Subsequently, on November 9th, the EU gave Georgia nine conditions(4) for entry, though it is clear the Georgian application still won't be accepted. The EU claims the country's economy and political establishment is still controlled by cliques of post-Soviet oligarchs; that there is no plurality in news media; and that the judiciary branch is “politicized”.

The former president Saakashvili and the National Movement Party remain part of the opposition. The former has been imprisoned since 2021, when he re-entered the country illegally on the eve of the last election during the 2020-2021 Georgian crisis. He was charged with embezzlement and murder in 2013, and convicted in absentia. The European parliament condemns this, and has sanctioned the current PM and ruling party officials. The European parliament has also recommended sanctions against the founder of the party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, accusing him of "determining the position of the current Government of Georgia towards sanctions on Russia". This forms one part of the EU’s objections to Georgia’s application.

The ruling Georgian Dream Party does not fit the typical picture of a pro-Moscow party. Despite their characterization as pro-Moscow, these are just pastiche trappings. The party came about as a result of the crises caused by the ultra-nationalist Saakashvili’s National Movement Party government, whose democratic administration was best remembered for the extreme level of repression—giving Georgia the largest prison population among all European countries(5)—along with the pledge to stamp out ethnic separatists and reinvigorate the central government.

In 2008, Saakashvili called to accelerate “westernization”, and for the US to intervene in Georgia’s favor when it settled the South Ossetian question via military means. Previously, the 2003 Rose Revolution that ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze was also successful in dissolving the autonomous authority of the Ajarian warlord Aslan Abashidze. Saakashvili’s administration felt this would demonstrate Georgian resolve in the face of Russia, and suggest Georgia to the US as a bridgehead for western gas and oil interests in the Caucasus. But the USA was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Georgia was left in the lurch by the US’s NATO allies who were not going to act unilaterally after the Iraq adventure. During the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit, France and Germany opposed the entry of Georgia, Ukraine, and all other post-Soviet states into NATO.

Nonetheless, the US went as far as to fly 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq to Georgia to assist their assault on South Ossetia. Russia replied in kind to maintain their dominance of the Caucasus: Georgia's Black Sea coast was blockaded, Georgian troops were pushed out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the naval port of Poti was bombed, and the city of Gori was assaulted by South Ossetian and Russian forces; Gori and Tbilisi were bombed, and there was ethnic cleansing of Georgians from the Kodori Gorge and South Ossetia, ~30 miles from the capital Tbilisi(6),(7),(8).

The war degraded the already precarious social situation in the Caucasus state. This was concurrent with the brewing "subprime mortgage crisis" and ensuing austerity programs to restore profitability for investors. The Russians supported an Abkhazian and South Ossetian counter-offensive, causing a massive internal refugee crisis alongside the destruction of infrastructure. The National Movement Party brutally suppressed the 2011 Georgian protests calling for president Saakashvili's removal. His administration and the US decried these demonstrations as Russian collusion, but the events ultimately foretold the end of the National Movement Party's government the following year, after the 2012 elections in Georgia.

In 2012, the nascent Georgian Dream Party was a part of a new ruling coalition with the National Forum Party and Democratic Movement Party. The role Georgian Dream played for national capital was to reconstruct support for the state, in order to, a) prevent more demonstrations, and b) pacify workers stuck on democratic terrain by throwing the old administration under the bus.

Today, the Caucasus state and even Georgian Dream is divided. On August 2nd, 2022, MPs Sozar Subari, Mikheil Kavelashvili, and Dimitri Khundadze left the party to form the People's Power Movement. This new party has denounced the ruling party and accused the entire political establishment of allowing the West, through NGOs and MEPs, to erode Georgian sovereignty, plot a coup to reinstate Saakashvili as president, and drag Georgia into the Russo-Ukrainian war against the already threadbare military apparatus of Russian imperialism. The ruling class in the West sees the opening of a new front as another low commitment way to bleed Russian imperialism, one incidentally at the expense of Georgian workers.

Georgia's political system is already embroiled in a political crisis. In February, 2023, there were major, sectoral strikes in healthcare, mining, media, taxis and the “gig economy”. As a reference, in 2021, half of Georgian workers made less than GL 900 ($320) per month. The strikes were over pandemic induced cutbacks, declining wages, inflation, and the exclusion of healthcare workers from new overtime laws. The strikes by cab and delivery drivers in the gig economy were quickly confined to their sectors, and due to the precarity of those jobs they accepted only a more “fair” system of pay raises that offered no immediate raise for the drivers(9),(10).

The National Movement Party and the President remain some of the most influential opposition politicians. President Salome Zourabichvili provided a lot of the kindling for the March 2023 demonstrations against the “Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence”. The proposed law required NGOs to register as “agents of foreign influence” if 20% of their total revenue is from “abroad.” Since then there have been constitutional reforms to strengthen the party's government and have the presidency elected by a parliament(11),(12).

If Georgia goes to war against Russia, either to open a second front or contribute militarily to Ukraine, it would fan the flames of a deteriorating social situation characterized by intense political fissures. The ruling politicians know EU and NATO membership will likely never progress, since the state is still mired in multiple ethnic separatist conflicts. To preserve themselves, Georgian politicians have refused to act unilaterally on behalf of the US and its partners, and will not open a second front against Russia. For over thirty years the break away territories of i.e. South Ossetia, Abkhazia, etc… have been supported by Russia in order to maintain control between the Black and Caspian Seas. Traditionally, the major imperialists’ concerns in the region stem from the flow of gas and oil from the Caspian basin, whereas the regional states and statelets are concerned with how to collect rents from the pipelines crossing their territory, and with gaining more support from the aforementioned major players. Now, since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war, the possibility for a much lauded middle corridor is open, bypassing Russia for rail cargo from China by using Georgia as an overland dry canal to Europe. Georgia is gambling they can be in the center of this development project, which could flush the state with revenues, and strengthen its growing relationship with China. Plus, by dropping aspirations to join NATO, a cornered Russia might back Georgia in a military campaign against South Ossetia and Abkhazia(13).

Russia’s post-Soviet policy has been to maintain dominance over the Caucasus region. This was the case even before the Soviet Republics' dissolution, with the leadership of the USSR supporting their obvious ally Azerbaijan in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. Armenian state capitalists had seceded from the USSR, privatizing capital and territory out of the Russian capital's initial sphere of control.

The Russian Federation’s wars against breakaway republics like Chechnya were equally part of this policy, as were the Federation’s participation in ethnic sectarian conflicts within its own borders, such as the Ossetian-Ingush War. So were its utilization of Mujahideen incursions from Chechnya as the justification for a second invasion in August 1999, its support for the South Ossetian and Abkhazia breakaway states, and then later for Armenia against Azerbaijan after the former joined the Commonwealth of Independent States, a maneuver partially to counter Turkish influence. However, Russia's ability to intervene in the South Caucasus had been declining even before the invasion of Ukraine. There, with Russian Imperialism on the backfoot, it was clear the Ukrainian dispute would have to be settled more definitively and militarily, as Kiev was more and more in a position to threaten Russian gains in the Donbass and Crimea. In the Caucasus, the decay of Russian muscle was seen in the third Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Russia did not want a conflict in the South Caucasus, and despite the fact Armenia was part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia's commitment to Yerevan was fickle(15). Now that Azerbaijan has annexed the Nagorno-Karabakh exclave and is able to militarily threaten what remains of the Armenian nation, the Armenians have turned their backs on Russian diplomacy. This is opening the door in the region to other imperialism eager to carve out influence, such as the French(16), American, Iranian, and Turkish, which brings us back to Georgia.

Russia's relationship with Georgia has always been tenuous, and will probably remain so despite these developments. Even during the weak, “pro-Russian” administration of the one-time Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Russia continued to support ethnic separatists while Shevardnadze's government was fighting a civil war against the forces of ousted President Zviad. During this period, state power in Georgia was really in the hands of a triumvirate of warlords who controlled the economy, plus the paramilitaries at war with both Zviad's forces and the Abkhazians and South Ossetians, who were aided by the Russian military. Russia only began to support Eduard Shevardnadze's government exclusively against Zviad's forces once the Shevardnadze government joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Imperialism. i.e. capitalism in its decadent phase, determines the way states behave. Any normalization of relations between Georgia and Russia is preparation for a future conflict. Currently, Georgian capital is severely weakened by multiplying crises, and appears to have concluded that being able to regain control over breakaway territories is the best way to contend with the situation. Imperialism only exports the congenital contradictions of the capitalist systems, and the Georgian workers’ conditions will not be relieved through this. Georgia cuddles up to the West for now, but will most likely have to resign itself again to Russian imperialism as the War in Ukraine is perceived to be moving along a more advantageous track for Russia than it was previously.

The West has been generously supporting Ukraine in order to wear down Russian imperialism. This has been at the expense of mostly Ukrainian and Russian workers, though workers in the metropoles have also undergone privations for increased war production and preparations. The narrative is one of a drive towards generalized war, as direct military confrontations are becoming a preferred form of inter-state competition. In these wars some states might appear neutral, but are still forcibly brought under the military considerations of one or another belligerents. Neutral states might even mobilize armies but remain idle—just as capital is invested to realize a profitable return, so is the military, which is best seen as an advance on future profits. The war machine needed by many states are out of their reach and remain insufficient for offenses to completely destroy their rivals. So too does surplus constant capital lay idle when profits are insufficient for the needs of capital expansion. Workers in Georgia face only continued deterioration of living conditions and future bloodshed, no matter the political orientation of the leading politicians.

Internationalist Workers' Group
December 2023


Image: DerFuchs (CC BY-SA 4.0),

(1) Playing With Fire: Georgia’s Cautious Rapprochement With Russia July 21, 2023

(2) NATO aspirant country blames NATO for Russia’s war on Ukraine May 30, 2023.

(3) EU Commission’s report on Georgia’s EU candidacy conditions “confirms Gov’t efforts” - Parliament Speaker June 23, 2023

(4) Georgia’s EU Candidate Status Will Test Its Relations With Russia November 17, 2023

(5) Mikheil Saakashvili's Polarizing Legacy October 24, 2013

(6) Revolutionary Perspectives #47 The War in Georgia - Not Just Another International Crisis

(7) Revolutionary Perspectives #47 War in Georgia: Who Will Control the Oil and Gas of the Caspian Basin?

(8) Revolutionary Perspectives #47 South Ossetia: Fulcrum of Imperialism’s “Great Game”

(9) New wave of labor protests hits Georgia February 6, 2023

(10) Georgian Miners are on strike – AGAIN June 26, 2023

(11) Georgia: ‘Foreign agents’ bill tramples on rights by restricting freedom of expression and association March 7, 2023

(12) 2023 Georgia Protest

(13) Playing With Fire: Georgia’s Cautious Rapprochement With Russia July 21, 2023

(14) The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a regional intergovernmental organization in Eurasia. It was formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The CIS encourages cooperation in economic, political, and military affairs and has certain powers relating to the coordination of trade, finance, lawmaking, and security, including cross-border crime prevention.

(15) Nagorno-Karabakh War: For Workers the Real Enemy Lies at Home

(16) Armenia receives French armored vehicles instead of Ukraine

Thursday, January 4, 2024