Is Georgia Going Back to the Bandwagoning Strategy towards Russia?
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Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia attained autonomy but was soon embroiled in civil war. Additionally, two territories that are currently seized by Russian military forces, Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia, were lost. The independence obtained by means of struggle was seriously threatened by the nation’s challenging socio economic situation, elite corruption, and high crime rate in the country. (which started with the events of April 9, 1989). The Military Council took over as the country’s national government after the military overthrew the country’s first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and later in 1995, Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet Union minister of foreign affairs, was elected as the nation’s next president (the Constitution was enacted in the same year, as well as the new national currency, Lari was introduced).
Bandwagoning strategy of Shevardnadze
To put it simply,“Bandwagoning should occur when secondary states partner with the hegemon in response to a perceived threat” in international relations. Thus, a small state bandwagons a great power, which is a potential threat to it, to avoid possible aggression or, in the worst case, invasion and war. It must be said that nevertheless, Shevardnadze performed this task well; His foreign policy was much more successful than his domestic one. As president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Alexander Rondeli stated, he was “an outstanding politician”.
Shevardnadze took on a significant political legacy in terms of foreign policy; including two breakaway areas, Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia, where Russia’s purported (UN-sanctioned) Peacekeeping troops were stationed. He was obligated to consent to Georgia’s (forced) membership into the Commonwealth of Independent States back in 1993 when he served as the chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Georgia (Tbilisi formally departed the CIS in a few months after the 2008 Georgia-Russia war). At the time, this action was considered one of several “urgent measures” to end the “frozen conflicts” in the South Caucasus region. Although Shevardnadze was rather disappointed, he remarked, “I am sure that would be to Georgia’s advantage”.
The placement of Russian military bases across the entirety of Georgia in 1995 was the second step. Undoubtedly, such activities endangered the country’s true liberty (Russia finally withdrew its military outposts from Georgia in 2007, a few months before the August War, with the exception of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia). Shevardnadze endorsed a pronounced pro-Western policy in the second half of the 1990s after eventually recognizing that a strategy of bandwagoning did not work with Russia. The culmination of such a turn was Georgia’s official application for NATO membership. During the Prague summit in 2002, Shevardnadze addressed to the Alliance members: “I am happy that at the Summit of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council I can declare that Georgia is determined to be a full member of NATO and is resolved to work hard to prepare for this historic mission”. With this statement, in fact, the bandwagoning strategy was rejected.
Back to Bandwagoning Strategy towards Russia?
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 radically altered the security agenda of Europe. Many countries have given their foreign policy practices serious consideration, as well as the prospect of changing it. In this regard, the position of the ruling party in Georgia, ” the Georgian Dream”, is, to put it mildly, very contradictory. As it was stated, “Decisions made by the ruling Georgian Dream party have thrown the party’s political leanings into sharper relief, exposing the country’s deep fault lines”. And yet, what were these decisions? In the first days after the start of the war, the ruling party refused to join the international sanctions against Russia. At the same time, the Georgian Dream did not allow a plane carrying Georgian volunteer fighters to fly to Ukraine. The abovementioned decisions and actions seriously strained the official relations between Tbilisi and Kyiv; President Zelensky even recalled his own ambassador for consultations.
Although its anti-Russian and pro-Western policies are generating more and more controversy domestically, the Georgian government formally condemns Russian aggression against Ukraine. In the official talks of the country’s leadership, an increasing emphasis is placed on maintaining peace; Georgian authorities often criticize the European Union and the United States, and constantly claim that outside forces want to drag Georgia into the war. Last December, a report released by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) declared that “In the last few years, and especially over the past 18 months, Georgia’s ruling coalition has made a series of moves that seem designed to distance the country from the West and shift it gradually into Russia’s sphere of influence”. The root of the problems in Georgia is still the informal rule of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The Georgia Dream’s “Peace Discourse” is its primary means of persuading the domestic audience that it is unnecessary for the nation to actively pursue a pro-Western policy and to “irritate” Russia. As time passes, with such policies and steps, Georgia is gradually drifting away from the European security architecture and closer to the Russian orbit. It is remarkably similar to the bandwagoning strategy, which Georgia has already tried and failed with. The final say will still rest with the Georgian society, which must make a decision during the 2024 parliamentary elections as to whether Georgia will resume its pro-Western foreign policy track or finally succumb to the Russian sphere of influence.
Irakli Javakhishvili, Ph.D. in Social Sciences, associate professor at Webster University Georgia, and an adjunct professor at Webster University in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). He taught at various Georgian universities, including International Black Sea University, Caucasus International University, and St. Andrew Georgian University. From 2019 to 2022 he was a head of BA program of international relations at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University. In 2019 he defended his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic "Development of Georgia's International Relations with the European Union and Turkey in 1991-2003." Since 2018 he has been lecturing on the fields like international relations, diplomacy and foreign policy. In 2013 he had studying practice in the Department of Diplomatic Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. He is an author of the books entitled “Diplomatic Negotiations: Theory, Process, and Evolution” (2020) and “The Democratic Republic of Georgia in Diplomatic Relations of the Great Powers: 1918-1921” (2019). In 2021 he made a contribution in Springer Publication, in volume: Between Peace and Conflict in the East and the West, entitled “Covid-19-Pandemic Measures in Conflict Zones in 2020 and 2021 – the Case of the OSCE and South Ossetia in Georgia”, published by OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Since May 2022 he has been a member of the “Sector Council of Higher Education of Conflictology” of the LEPL National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement. In October 2022 his article “The Problems of Georgia’s European Identity” was published in Rome, Italy.
For years, Irakli Javakhishvili has been actively involved in creating opportunities for listening, sharing experiences and cooperation between young people of different confessions/religions in Georgia. The practice of listening is particularly conducive to interreligious dialogue.